Matthew McConaughey in “Dazed and Confused”

An actor’s performance can elevate a movie from good to great. “Dazed and Confused” is probably the quintessential example of this. Without such a wonderful cast, it wouldn’t likely be that memorable, but there are a dozen or so truly excellent performances that brighten the movie and elevate it from cliche. Even the long-haired stoner kid nails his role.

The kid who plays Mitch resembles Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum exactly, down to his capacity to pitch complete game victories. The actor, who goes by the delightful name of Wiley Wiggins, is painfully awkward, but memorably so. He has a habit of touching his mouth, which appears to be a nervous tic on the part of an teenaged amateur actor, but comes across in the movie as strangely endearing.

I saw “Dazed and Confused” once, long ago in my high school years. Subsequently, I kept hearing Matthew McConaughey’s infamous line about high-school girls. Out of context, it sounded sleazy and unattractive. Then I saw the movie again:

In the special features to my copy of the movie, McConaughey talks about how he perfected his walk for the role. He practiced by leading with his you-know-what. Not his chest, not his chin, but his manhood. This approach is perfectly visible in this scene, where at times, the only motion in his frame is the swaying of his hips.

His drawl is so funny as well. What a funny character. He’s the type of guy you try to dislike, but can’t help yourself. A great example of this is the scene when he’s hitting on the red-haired girl at the drive-in restaurant. Her friends are disgusted, and she probably knows what she’s getting into, but she can’t help herself. The older, muscular gentleman with the tremendous blonde moustache is cooing at her with his deep, dribbling drawl, and she is happy to go along for the ride.

McConaughey embodies this role, and it takes a special devotion to pull such a performance off in the name of sleaze.

There are a handful of characters in “Dazed and Confused” whose screen time is priceless. There’s no wonder they all became famous. There’s so much star power in this movie. And not just “oh, that guy gets famous eventually” star power, either. McConaughey, Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey… they’re all at the height of their powers. They are spot-on: endearing, hilarious, cruel, just like their high-school counterparts surely would be. Of course, there’s a reason they all became famous – it’s an abnormally talented cast. And the result of their talents is a movie that I will probably never tire of.

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