BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: hazy days; a film society toast.

TEEN COMEDIES seem to be one of the few Hollywood genres that don’t necessarily need antagonists, or even a proper climax. I guess it’s frequently filtered through the lens of nostalgia, and not many people have teenage lives like Edith Piaf or Jim Carroll. Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused basically has no antagonists, and barely has a climax, but it does feel a bit different. It eschews the traditional misty-eyed view of childhood (or disastrous view of childhood) and instead offers a pseudo-realist take which feels incredibly evocative of adolescence and the end of school. It’s simply a day in the life – teenage kids hanging out, getting drunk, talking smack (the word “man” is said over two hundred times in the film), doing weed, wondering whether to grow up, wondering if they’re going to be the same as the bullies. The usual – and Linklater was too smart to simply fall back on basic stereotypes that most teen comedies in the 90s relied on thanks to John Hughes.

It took me back to a time of endless sunshine, the smell of the simmering tar on the roads, the casual drinking for the sake of casual drinking, the friends you half-expected to still be around for decades afterwards, but you weren’t sure if you still wanted them to be around. It also captured the sheer chaos of the memory of youth – little moments composed of exciting, triumphant, depressing, frightening or messy shards.

This was brought to life brilliantly by Linklater’s dialogue and non-existent plotting. It felt like being young and aimless, but with the foreknowledge that an end was coming soon enough. Of course, the uniformly great cast assisted in bringing this to live, and I also marvelled at the foresight that Linklater showed in casting a young Ben Affleck as a douche. Matthew McConaughey wonderfully plays a twenty-something who realises that it was only as a teenager that he once meant something, and he becomes a rather pathetic hanger-on – I don’t know if he became even more pathetic or more understandable given the film’s small town setting. Other stars also appear young in this film – Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger. But the cast works because of their lack of flashiness, and due to the convincing 70s milieu. Of course, hitting the soundtrack with the 70s sounds (apparently getting the rights was 1/6 of the film’s budget) helped, and everything from Sabbath to Frampton assisted. Dazed and Confused may be one of the best films about being young, a fine distinction from the usual teen comedies which are about youth. It’s hip, funny, and smart to capture the fleeting moments, the freeze-frame adolescence seems to hold in our minds.

Many thanks must go to the Film Society for the year – it’s been a fantastic group of films, particularly the Sam Fuller and the postwar German cinema. My personal favourites (but I may have one of the few) were the Brazilian Cinema Novo films – it was rare to see such obscure and brilliant films. Next year is already sounding fantastic – at this stage there looks like a Jacques Demy (including the documentary on him made by his widow, the fantastic Agnes Varda), retrospective, a Charles Burnett collection, a bunch of recent Korean and German films and a bit of Antonioni and Bergman to commemorate the recent death of two of the most iconic filmmakers ever. The Film Society is highly recommended!