Retronalysis: ‘Dazed and Confused’ Ruined Teen Comedies in the Best Way Possible

dazed and confused

Before there was boyhood, Richard Linklater was dazed and confused, transplanting his own experiences as an angsty teenager growing up in 1976 onto the big screen.

So what works in Dazed in Confused has a lot more to do with Linklater himself than the admirable cast, as it was the 90s comedy that undermined all of the others that came after it (peaking at Can’t Hardly Wait and perhaps Not Another Teen Movie). Dazed dashed the plot heavy drama-fests of the 80s and replaced them with a heart even Breakfast Club would fist bump, cementing itself as one of the first true cult classics of its decade.

That’s not to say people were ready for this movie in 1993. Though it captures many of the typical aesthetics that accompanied teen comedies at the time, Dazed approached both the spiritual highs and lows of being a kid during that era, or any era if you grew up with a good taste in music and loved to wander around without a GPS.

The film centers around a group of seniors on their last day of high school; going to parties, pool halls, and overall just getting into trouble. The movie addresses the fact that while these many teenagers we see engage in obvious behavior (sex, drugs, and rock and roll), not much of what they say or do actually means anything.

dazed and confused

And most of them seem to honestly get that. It’s one of the most honest coming of age films of all time, if only for addressing just how empty adolescence can feel when you’re trying to reflect back on it, putting your hopes and wishes onto the relationships that were either forced by proximity or brought on by a mixture of hormones and chemical substances.

…if I ever say these were the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.

– Pink

Rather than place the weight of its characterization on massive set pieces, such as a sudden tragedy, failed romance, or name your trope, Dazed hedged its emotion on small moments of dialogue between relatable characters. Is it any wonder that a 90s stoner movie centered around 70s in-jokes strikes a chord with everyone else?

Amidst all of its disheartening observations on life is some fun, though. The humor of Dazed is competent enough to lend weight to its softer touches. Wooderson (played by a young Matthew McConaughey), is probably the film’s most humorous character, while also the most pathetic — being a guy in his 20s who still hangs out with high schoolers.

He’s also one of the few characters who doesn’t go through his own rite of passage (and for good reason). Throughout the film, we observe how each character either wins or loses based on some arbitrary contests that range from freshmen hazing to full-on brawls. Wooderson is the only character who sees through their prideful bragging. As a surrogate for Linklater himself, Wooderson understands how always wanting what’s next (more girls, leaving high school, etc.) is almost as unsatisfying as actually getting it.

Grade: A-

Everybody Wants Some, Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, opens in limited release this weekend. It’s set in Austin, Texas like Dazed, but this time focusing on college students in the early 80s. It will hit wide release on April 15th.

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Retronalysis: Sacha Baron Cohen is the Only Great Thing About ‘Borat’

sacha baron cohen borat

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan as an important movie because of its popularity (as well as the length of that subtitle). Not that anything is wrong with being popular, it’s just tempting in hindsight to attribute the movie’s success more to controversy, rather than the movie being as funny as it is.

What originated as an afterthought to Cohen’s more popular character at the time, Ali G, “Borat” as a character found huge success on the big screen as an eccentric reporter who acts in character around real people. Most of what makes Borat funny is the give and take between Cohen and his real-time American costars, who think he really is an offensive man from Kazakhstan (much to that country’s disdain).

In 2006, it was still unpopular to satire perceived greatness of America (Newsroom wouldn’t upend this accepted belief for several years). Yet Borat struck a chord with audiences on both sides of the political spectrum for how accessible its jokes were without polarizing one side. Then again, you don’t have to be either conservative or liberal to think stuffing Pamela Anderson in a wedding sack is funny.

And that’s perhaps because the embarrassment of Americans on the street aspect of the film is joined by some more neutral observations of blue-collar folk. The fact that these people are sometimes polite to a fault when dealing with foreigners says just as much about America as what they get offended by.

sacha baron cohen borat

Cohen himself does some of his best work here, and just off the success of his character in one of Will Farrell’s best films, Talladega Nights. His performance and commitment to his persona is obviously impressive, but that’s not even mentioning the rapid-fire wit he brings to the movie, even during some of the staged scenes.

Because of this, I find it nearly impossible to peg the movie’s genius on any one thing. The jokes are hilarious, but in the least impressive way. Cohen is a smarter actor here than I think he gets credit for, but that might only be a result of how dumb everything is around him.

Without much of a plot to bring into the discussion, that just leaves the concept itself to decide whether or not Borat truly is one of the most essential comedies of the new millennium. Based on that criteria, I hesitate to make that assumption, especially considering how lackluster Cohen’s followups have been since. While it’s unfair to judge Borat on any of his other films, it’s still helpful to hold them up as proof that Borat isn’t quite the masterpiece we thought it would be ten years ago.

Grade: B

I won’t be catching Brothers Grimsby (or just Grimsby) this weekend, but we’ll no doubt cover the movie in this week’s podcast. Since The Dictator, I’ve all but given up on Cohen’s comedy, despite the fact that the man is one of the smartest comedians out there if you’re not judging this by his work alone.

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Retronalysis: Ryan Reynolds Was the Least of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s Problems

deadpool ryan reynolds x-men origins wolverine

In 2009, the X-Men film franchise took a step backward in more ways than one. It stepped backward in time, literally, to explore the origins of Wolverine, played a fourth time by Hugh Jackman.

The problem? We had already experienced a Wolverine-centric trilogy. Seriously, those movies were all about Wolverine. Many people, myself included, had no idea why we needed an origin film for a character we already knew so much about .

But we were still excited going into Origins because it featured our favorite mutant, and perhaps, we thought, there was still a great story to be told. And even more new X-Men characters for Fox to show us, including Gambit, a fully realized Sabertooth, and yes, Deadpool.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine has its fans, to be sure, as it serves up at least a passable romp of an action movie (as well as a far superior video game made by Activision). But what made the origin movie unforgivable for legions of X-Men fans had a lot to do with that character I mentioned earlier: Deadpool.

deadpool ryan reynolds x-men origins wolverine

The “Merc with a Mouth” made his debut on the big screen with Origins, and he was actually played by Ryan Reynolds (a hint that the casting was one of the character’s few bright spots).

What’s odd about Origins‘ take on Deadpool has a lot more to do with the Deadpool we got in the final act of the film, not his initial introduction. Early on, he was still Wade Wilson, before getting the Weapon X treatment that would transform him into the fully fleshed (depending on how you look at it) Deadpool.

The movie portrayed him as the mercenary for hire with enhanced reflexes. This, of course, was before he would undergo the nightmarish operations granting him Wolverine’s healing factor.

And this version of Deadpool was one of the highlights of what was mostly a dreary retread of the first X-Men with more montages. Just take a look at how they nailed Wilson’s ninjaesthetic in just one scene:

Reynolds’ quick wit was a welcome addition to the exposition-heavy origin story, and it set up for an even more interesting story we were getting with the character who would become Deadpool.

Then he became Deadpool. And all hell broke loose.

Spoilers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine going forward. 

As I stated earlier, the final act of Origins is where the bastardization of Deadpool came into effect. Stryker unleashes “Deadpool” on Wolverine, whose mouth is sewn shut to somehow resemble the comic book character in a grittier manner. Deep sigh.

Not only that, but Stryker dumped several mutant powers upon Deadpool, rather than just the healing factor. For whatever reason, they even decided to give him Cyclops’ optic beams. The result was a pale shadow of what makes Deadpool a compelling character, complete with blades coming out of his arms to mimic Wolverine.

The message was clear. Fox was so convinced that Wolverine was their only draw for these movies, they had to manufacture more characters to emulate him. Tinkering with source material is one thing, but assuming fans only care about one character in such an expansive mythology is just idiotic.

Which is why I hesitate to lay any blame on Reynolds. True, “Deadpool” contributed heavily to why Origins was a failure, but that’s removing a decent take on the character that we can place on Reynolds. He fit the part, just not the script.

deadpool ryan reynolds x-men origins wolverine

And when it comes to Origins as a whole, the problems begin long before the final act. For one thing, the movie removes a key trait of Wolverine that makes him interesting: the mystery of his origins (who’d have thought?) Taylor Kitsch as Gambit is given nothing to do, along with many of the other characters you saw in the video above. Adamantium bullets. CGI Patrick Stewart. It all adds up to something bizarrely awful.

The side characters are hard to place fault on, even Will.I.Am (yes, this was his debut on the big screen). Origins spends the majority of its time trying to get two hours out of a somewhat substantial rivalry between Wolverine and Sabertooth, played expertly by Liev Schrieber.

Granted, it’s a better set up than their conflict in the first of these movies, but it wasn’t interesting enough to sweep the film’s other side plots aside, a decision I suspect the writers were either forced to make late in production, or chose to in order to save the movie. The result ended up being all the same.

deadpool ryan reynolds x-men origins wolverine

While I don’t expect the upcoming Deadpool to be a revolution in superhero cinema, there’s little doubt that Fox has learned its lesson in spades these last few years, with nary a truly terrible X-Men film to be found. Some still find all of these later entries, even First Class, mostly generic, but there’s a certain level of effort being shown every time.

And for better or worse, that hasn’t changed with Reynolds’ next foray into the X-Men universe.

My Retronalysis grade for X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a D. 

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Retronalysis: ‘Meet the Parents’ Features De Niro at His Most Humorous

meet the parents retronalysis

The success and talent of Robert De Niro will never be understated, thanks to his legendary performances in Raging BullThe Godfather: Part 2, and many more (notice these are curiously dramatic roles).

But we’ve seen a curious trend arising in De Niro’s latest movie choices (aside from his David O. Russell projects), such as Grudge MatchLast Vegas, and now, Dirty Grandpa. In some of these movies, De Niro is paired with a younger, but talented actor, such as Anne Hathaway in Nancy Meyers’ The Intern.

And now, for better or (probably) worse, Dirty Grandpa sees him acting alongside Zac Efron.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, Efron can be compared just as easily to Ben Stiller, who starred with De Niro in one of his best comedies, Meet the Parents, which is actually a remake of a 1992 film of the same name. Like Stiller, Efron has proven his comedic chops with films like Neighbors and…oh.

Unlike the dark comedies of De Niro’s early career (BrazilThe King of Comedy, etc.), Meet the Parents gave us a more lighthearted and absurd performance from the actor, in no small part thanks to his co-star credit, Ben Stiller.

When the film came out in 2000, it was an instant hit with both critics and audiences. But does it stand the test of time and two atrocious sequels?

meet the parents retronalysis

Directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers and recently Sisters and Trumbo), Meet the Parents is about an unlucky guy named Greg (Stiller) who meets his girlfriend’s extended family during her sister’s wedding. He gets caught up in a web of small, social lies that put him in the crosshairs of his girlfriend’s disquieting father, Jack (De Niro), who puts the pressure on him as an increasing amount of unfortunate events get blamed on Greg’s hapless antics.

Aside from De Niro, Stiller is one of the best things about Meet the Parents, as it should be. For whatever reason, Stiller is able to make slapstick comedy seem genuine and earned, which is a trait he also pulled off in the equally funny movie, There’s Something About Mary.

Stiller’s character straddles the line of “everyman” and “deviant,” which is no easy task. His subtle, occasional slip into deviancy is mostly relatable, as you can understand why he’s so prone to telling Pam’s family a bunch of nonsense to make himself seem better in their eyes. He’s a nurse, but with no real prospects, especially compared to De Niro’s sordid, later-revealed past in the CIA (which serves as another great intimidation tactic that elevates the comedy).

As you can expect, De Niro also nails his performance, a trick not many other actors could match. He’s obviously the antagonist, but he has to be somewhat likable for us to root for Greg getting his approval. We end up loving Jack for all of his tender moments with Jinx and the family, the clear sign that retirement has made him feel less relevant in his kids’ lives, and all matter of other characterization that makes Jack sympathetic and believable.

meet the parents retronalysis

And the strangest thing about Meet the Parents is how much scope it lends to some extremely uncomfortable subject material, notably with the mixing of religions and class during the iconic dinner scene. Sitting at their table, Greg (a non-devout Jew) is socially compelled into praying for the food, a moment that adds unspeakable tension to an already unsettling scene. Of course, this only escalates further with some cat-milking anecdotes and the destruction of Jack’s mother, but the laughs don’t diminish the harsh realities gleaned from moments like that prayer.

This could have easily been a terrible movie, trying too hard to channel what made the Farrelly Brothers’ There’s Something About Mary work so well. But Meet the Parents never lets up with its unique brand of social and familial humor, even if it somewhat loses its creative stride by the ending.

Speaking of which, the only notable flaws in Meet the Parents are mostly forgettable. After a while, it’s easy to grow tired of the constant structure of Greg and Jack’s back and forth, which loses its variation by the third act. Audiences did get to the point where they just wanted Greg to dump Pam and just cut his losses.

Some of the jokes don’t work as well as the others, and some of the gags are too obvious for people not to see coming well in advance, including the vase scene mentioned earlier. But what does work in Meet the Parents works tremendously, and it has a fair share of memorable quotes and lines that people still love to quote 16 years later.

meet the parents retronalysis

For that reason, Meet the Parents will be remembered as one of De Niro’s best comedies, and I consider it his best modern comedy by far.

I’m going to give Meet the Parents a B+

Next week, I’ll be exploring the Kung Fu Panda movies as they lead up to the new installment, Kung Fu Panda 3. Until then, be sure to subscribe for other editorial content, podcast episodes, and more.

Thanks for reading this! You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

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