We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Summer 1976, and schools out for the dweebs, jocks and drop-outs at a Texas high school. Comedy written and directed by Richard Linklater and starring every up-and-coming actor in America
Writer-director Richard Linklater streamlined the talky, episodic qualities of his indie breakthrough Slacker for this sublime coming-of-age comedy, which follows a group of suburban Texan teenagers through the last day of school in summer 1976. Freeform in structure yet rich with small-town subtext, Dazed & Confused sports a killer period soundtrack (Sabbath! Foghat! Kiss! Alice Cooper!) and a cast of fresh-faced youngsters who would go on to great things - look out for Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck & Parker Posey - but it is Linklater’s novelistic character detail and peerless ear for stoned immaculate dialogue that secures the film’s place alongside American Graffiti and Fast Times At Ridgemont High as one of the great ensemble teen movies.
When it comes to 1970s nostalgia, why are people bent on 'celebrating' the very worst things about the decade? The Bay City Rollers, preposterous fashion faux pas - anyone would think the 1970s was an era of ephemera rather than the decade that spawned the greatest American movies since the 1930s and all manner of amazing music.
Thankfully, Richard Linklater isn't someone to whom the 1970s simply means socially-irresponsible flares and Spacedust. Okay, so there are some pretty loud clothes on show here, not to mention all manner of regrettable haircuts, but for the most part, Dazed And Confused (tag line: 'See it with a bud') is less an exercise in nostalgia than a clever combination of teen movie, social comedy and period picture.
Texas, 1976, and it's the last day of school. As the clock ticks down, the local youngsters plot all manner of mayhem. The older boys are bent on tanning the arses of the younger kids, the girls plan to put their sorority sisters through hell, and everyone seems bent on getting drunk and high before sunrise.
While the pursuit of high times is the principal concern of Dazed And Confused, there are vestiges of a proper plot. For football star Randall 'Pink' Floyd (London), there's a choice to be made between partying and signing his coach's contract that forbids such behaviour. For nerdy Mike Newhouse (Goldberg - brilliant), there's an Everest of angst to overcome. And for young Mitch Kramer (Wiggins - the understated star of the show), there's a lot of growing up to be done and he's going to do it pretty damn quick.
With its high-school setting, all-star cast and widespread misbehaviour, Dazed And Confused is the 1990s' equivalent of Fast Times At Ridgemont High. But if Linklater's picture has the edge over Amy Heckerling's - admittedly very fine - film, it's because, while the film strives to celebrate rather than sneer at its setting, so it also serves as a reminder of more recent things. Indeed, as Dazed And Confused helps us recall the era when Aerosmith weren't a bunch of AA-addicts fronted by a Jack Skellington lookalike, so it reminds us of that wonderful time in the 1990s when Ben Affleck was fat and funny, when Parker Posey deservedly seemed set to become the next big thing, and when Matthew McCounaughey seemed to have a purpose.
Of course, while some of his pupils have gone on to front huge pictures, it's Linklater who's enjoyed the greatest post-D&C success. And rightly so, for without him, this could have been a '90s equivalent of Porky's. But with Linklater on board, Dazed And Confused is a movie packed with sweet emotion and plenty of legal highs.
In a nutshell: Like the moustache sported by Matthew McCounaughey's character, Dazed And Confused is sleazy, amusing and quite, quite awesome.
By Richard Luck
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