Bragging Rights: ‘Dazed and Confused’

Gramercy Pictures

Bragging Rights is a series with a single goal: to determine which member of a cast, a team, a band, or a presidential cabinet is killing it the most, years later. Grantland writers will take turns giving their take on who has the bragging rights from the posse of their choosing. This week, Katie Baker says “check ya later” to one of the great films of our age: Dazed and Confused.

The most important genre in American film isn’t the Western or the gangster epic or even the animated classic. (Sorry, boss!) It’s a category that’s far more universal and much more personal: the high school rager.

In art, as in life, there’s nothing more formative and memorable than that one crazy night when it all comes together before it all falls apart, when the nerds hook up with the cool kids, the joints get passed like torches between the seniors and the freshmen, and the keg is just a heavier sand timer. The moment is always fleeting: If the cops (or mom and dad) don’t ruin it all, unstoppable circadian rhythms surely will.

Great minds throughout history, from Robert Frost to Eagle-Eye Cherry to William Shakespeare, have touched upon these themes. But one work of art has gone above and beyond, earning a place not only in the Criterion Collection, but in our hearts. And that work is Richard Linklater’s 1993 masterpiece, Dazed and Confused.

“No film whose plot involves the quest for Aerosmith tickets can take itself too seriously,” wrote Janet Maslin in the New York Times upon the movie’s release in 1993. But the film, set in 1976 small-town Texas on the last day of school, also avoids veering into straight slapstick or wacky high jinks, preferring instead to focus on its large cast of characters. From its terrifying rising seniors with their squeezy mustard bottles and frat-paddles to its meek middle schoolers, from its stoners to its dweebs, Dazed and Confused is a movie built around people — and those who intimidate, attract, and annoy them.

Of course, anytime you’re talking about high school, the dominant question becomes, Hey, whatever happened to that guy? In that spirit, let’s assess who would have the most to offer at their next reunion: who has grown up, who has moved out, and who was basically never heard from again.

The Cast

  • Jason London
  • Joey Lauren Adams
  • Milla Jovovich
  • Shawn Andrews
  • Rory Cochrane
  • Adam Goldberg
  • Anthony Rapp
  • Sasha Jenson
  • Marissa Ribisi
  • Deena Martin
  • Michelle Burke
  • Wiley Wiggins
  • Ben Affleck
  • Christin Hinojosa
  • Parker Posey
  • Matthew McConaughey

The Writer-Director

  • Richard Linklater

Who Has the Bragging Rights?1

GOLD MEDAL: Ben Affleck

Look, I don’t want to laud that asshole O’Bannion any more than you do, but the only thing about Ben Affleck that’s changed since he was awarded the Armageddon Bragging Rights gold medal this winter is that he’s hung out on a private jet to Vegas with Tom Brady and “stepped out,” to use weird gossip rag parlance, with the nanny.

Both of these things are enormously douchey, to be sure, but douchiness and Bragging Rights unfortunately tend to go hand in hand. I mean, if I see a tabloid cover featuring anything Affleck-related, I’m buying it immediately, no questions asked, and that is the mark of true industry power.2

The Bragging Rights selection process is not unlike the one that goes on outside a models-and-bottles night club: The bouncers just want to take your money; they aren’t there to be your friend. Affleck may be a bad man, but he’s also Batman — through 2019 at least. That velvet rope is getting lifted every damn time.

SILVER MEDAL/PEOPLE’S CHAMPION: Matthew McConaughey

If Affleck is a winner on technicalities, the true gold medalist of our hearts is this ramblin’ man. (If this were a real high school reunion, we’d accidentally give Affleck the wrong address to the after-party, then go take bong rips by the moon tower with McConaughey.) If you mention the movie to anyone, there’s an approximate 94 percent chance their response will revolve around David Wooderson, the creepy hangaround grad played by McConaughey in the first career film credit to his name. Whether it’s “all right, all right, all right,” “I get older, they stay the saaaame age,” “be a lot cooler if you did,” or “L-I-V-I-N,”3 McConaughey unquestionably steals the show.

How he got there is the stuff of casting legend. McConaughey, a young film school student in Austin, was drinking at the local Hyatt hotel bar — because a buddy of his worked there and would give him cheap drinks — when he was informed that Don Phillips, who had helped cast movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was down the bar. What happened next, as told via an oral history in Texas Monthly:

Phillips: Next thing I know, I’m having a drink with this kid and talking about golf. I think I remember him saying briefly that he was studying to be a director.

McConaughey: Gets to be four hours later, and my girlfriend is gone, man, and Don and I are pretty lubricated. We’re talking about life and women and some great golf hole he’s played, and I guess we got a little rambunctious.

Phillips: And a little loud, because some big-muscled, red-shirted, UT-football-player bouncer guy escorts us out of the bar. So Matthew and I went to my room and he said, “How dare they throw us out of the bar, Don. Don’t they know who you are?” And I said, “No, and they don’t give a damn either.” So he said, “You know what I’m doing? I’m calling a manager.” And he does. And he demands an apology. Wow. So after all that, I ask him if he’s ever acted before. “Naw,” he says in that Texas drawl of his. “I’ve been in a beer commercial and a music video.”

Behold, his dimpletastic audition tape:

Less than three years later, McConaughey had snagged the lead in A Time to Kill — beating out his future True Detective costar Woody Harrelson — the first of many leading parts throughout the late ’90s and early ’00s. For a while, the shirtless wonder was a punch line, a human surfboard, a walking drawl. But over the past few years, the McConaissance: He won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, for which he lost a reported 38 pounds. True Detective Season 2 seemed to exist almost entirely to highlight how good McConaughey had been in Season 1. His coked-up, jerked-off pep talk to Leo in The Wolf of Wall Street was an always-be-closing for a new generation.

These days, there are few things more exciting than seeing McConaughey’s name attached to a project — well, that is, unless you’re part of the unimpressed Cannes audience that booed The Sea of Trees.

BRONZE MEDAL: Richard Linklater

Not only was the guy able to indulge a passion project that spanned 12 years, but the resulting movie, Boyhood, was almost universally praised, nominated for umpteen awards and winning many of them. If you’re a director, that’s about as good as it gets.

Linklater was basically a boy himself — 28 years old — when he put together his first feature film, Slacker; a few years later came Dazed and Confused.4 Since then, his list of projects has remained relatively small and painstakingly curated: the Ethan Hawke–Julie Delpy Before [Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight] trilogy; the rotoscoped A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life; the diet-changing documentary Fast Food Nation. His most notable sellout flop was Bad News Bears, but for that we’ll blame Billy Bob Thornton.

In a Reddit AMA two years ago, Linklater mentioned a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, leading some to wonder if we’d get to check back in with the whole gang. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The movie is a college baseball film set in the 1980s called Everybody Wants Some. At the very least, the soundtrack should be good: Just as Dazed and Confused was named after a Led Zeppelin song, the new movie shares a title with Van Halen.

The Best of the Rest5

Parker Posey

Air raid, you little freshman sluts! We’ve all had a Darla in our life: a beautiful tormentor as cruel as she is cool. Posey has held all sorts of roles since Dazed and Confused — including a mid-’90s run of independent films that earned her the moniker “Queen of the Indies” — but the best have been her appearances in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. (The woman chews gum like no other.) Smile — through your adult braces if you have to — because you love her.

Renée Zellweger

Uncredited in the movie, Zellweger more than made up for it in the years that followed: She’s one of three cast members, joining McConaughey and Affleck, with Academy Awards. Though you may not recognize her at first, she’ll be back on the big screen in a new Bridget Jones film after a several-year absence from acting.

John Swasey

Remember the beer delivery guy who arrived early and totally ruined Kevin Pickford’s kegger? He’s now “the most prolific male voice actor in North America,” according to Anime News Network. His list of credits, which includes Lord Death in Soul Eater, is a fun romp indeed.

The Trio of Smart Kids

They may struggle socially throughout high school, but the slightly nerdy ones often turn out pretty well in the end. The overthinking, fast-chatting trio of Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, and Marissa Ribisi have all led relatively successful lives since that night spent driving around trying to be honest about being misanthropes and thinking about the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to somethin’ else.

I was excited to see Goldberg pop up as a way-up-northern gangster in the TV adaptation of Fargo, though not as excited as I was when I learned that he had a starring role in the music video for Sixpence None the Richer’s “There She Goes.” Not to be outdone in the annals of ’90s music, Rapp performed R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” in his audition for the original Broadway cast of Rent, earning the role of Mark Cohen. (He reprised it in the movie version.) As for Ribisi, she acted here and there before having two children with her husband, a semi-known musician called Beck.6

The Trio of Stoners

While most of the characters in Dazed and Confused could be described as stoners, three of them ranked just a little bit higher, man. Rory Cochrane, a.k.a. Slater (of “check ya later” and “Martha Washington was a hip, hip lady” fame), played Lucas in Empire Records and has continued to crop up respectably here and there on TV (24, CSI: Miami) and in films like Argo and Black Mass.

Milla Jovovich doesn’t say much in Dazed and Confused, but the song she warbles wound up on an actual album. Since then, she’s been Katinka Ingabogovinanana and Milady de Winter. She’s also appeared in five installments of the Resident Evil video-game movie franchise, with a sixth on the way, and married its director, Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with Maya Rudolph’s hubby Paul T.). Depending on how you count, it’s either her second or third marriage: her first one, to Dazed and Confused onscreen open-shirted boyfriend Shawn Andrews, was promptly annulled by her mother on account of Jovovich being only 16.

Wiley Wiggins

While he appeared in Linklater’s Waking Life and had a role in the 2013 Sundance darling Computer Chess, Wiggins’s biggest star turn since Dazed and Confused came when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010. The physical resemblance between stringy-haired Giants ace Tim Lincecum and nose-pinching eighth-grade pitcher Mitch Kramer was pretty hard to ignore, and Lincecum’s previous arrest for pot possession just added to the gag.

“Since I’ve undergone a horrible, slow transformation from effete, willowy teen with long hair into a sort of blocky, short-haired clone of my father, there’s not much of a resemblance to me now,” Wiggins told the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay that year, adding that he hoped “the other players don’t beat him with wooden paddles at the beginning of every season.”

Cole Hauser

Benny O’Donnell,7 played by Cole Hauser — the great-grandson of one of the O.G. Warner Brothers — has found steady work playing rather unsavory characters since Dazed and Confused. His assignments have included a racist POW, a neo-Nazi, a mob boss, a “morphine-addicted bounty hunter and war veteran,” and one of Affleck and Damon’s Masshole buddies in Good Will Hunting.

Kim Krizan

The teacher who closed out the school year by reminding her students that America was created by “a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males [who] didn’t want to pay their taxes” went on to write Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, as well as this Huffington Post article about Gore Vidal’s secret love letter to Anaïs Nin. Sounds about right.

The Burnouts Who Faded Away8

David Blackwell

The liquor store clerk from Dazed and Confused went on to play a liquor store clerk in Boyhood. Sounds about right.

Deena Martin

The girl who had to lie flat to zip up her bell bottoms now tweets Bible verses at Tim Tebow. Sounds about right.

Joey Lauren Adams

Let’s just say that her and Affleck’s careers have diverged since Chasing Amy.

Proto-Stifler

I’ll admit to having a bizarre crush on Don Dawson — must have been the overalls?! — but there’s no denying that he aged precisely as you’d expect that sort of kid from your high school to age.9

The Nice Girls

Neither Mitch’s kind, hot older sister Jodi nor Sabrina, the fresh-faced sideburned youngster she took under her wing, had many notable roles after Dazed and Confused. Michelle Burke’s most recent credit was a small part in 2012 Miley Cyrus vehicle LOL, while Christin Hinojosa left acting for antiwar activism.

The Mean Mom

Look, you pull a shotgun on O’Bannion, you wind up with credits like “Fighting Bag Lady,” “Klutzy Wino,” and “Hysterical Tenant.” Sorry, Carl’s Mom, but I don’t make the rules.

Jason London

NOT the London twin who was kidnapped by drug dealers and forced to smoke drugs in 2010, but WAS the London twin who pooped in the backseat of a cop car in 2013. (“I hate Arizona,” he explained, and you can’t argue with that.) His recent films include Wiener Dog Nationals and Wiener Dog Internationals, both of which costar Morgan Fairchild. In hindsight, I think maybe he should have signed that pledge that Coach offered, you know?

Filed Under: Movies, Bragging Rights, richard linklater, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Renee Zellweger, Parker Posey

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes