It's the last day of the school year in 1976, and everyone's ready for a party. First, however, the incoming freshmen students must go through bizarre initiation rituals organised by the soon-to-be-seniors, while everyone does their best to get stoned or get laid.
Writer-director Richard Linklater's second feature after Slacker is a funkier, more focused and much funnier movie than his original twentysomething micro-drama. A commercial failure in the US, despite generally good notices, it hung around in limbo waiting for a UK release for more than a year. Characterised in some quarters as the American Graffiti for the slacker generation, this is in fact a very clever piece of retro 70s anti-nostalgia which scrupulously avoids sentimentality. It just wants to tell us how genuinely strange the 70s were.
Tracking 18 hours in the lives of a bunch of high school juniors and incoming freshmen as they quit school and prepare for a party that evening, it jumps around between different characters (the Stoner, the Jock, the Intellectual, the Cool Guy) and events - including some truly horrific high school initiation rituals - to give an impressionistic account of what it was really like to be a 70s American suburban teen. Its approach is mosaic and non-linear, exactly like Slacker, but whereas that first film was devoted to the excavation of a number of tiny obsessions, this attempts to archive a whole culture.
In this it is largely successful. Linklater has gone back to 1976 and marked it as the defining year for the beginnings of slacker culture. There is the same aimlessness, the same bog cult games, the same complex irony, only purged of fear and loathing. Back in the 70s, according to Dazed And Confused, it was still possible to be optimistic about the future.
Despite some gags which use the benefit of hindsight too much for their own good, this is a smart piece of filmmaking which suggests Linklater is already one of the more formidable talents of the 90s.