In a move that ended up being quite fitting for the occasion, I totally spaced on the start time for the Dazed and Confused live reading last night and logged on almost 45 minutes late. Fortunately for me, it hadn’t gotten very far. I signed on during Mitch’s Friday-night baseball game—right before he gets paddled—and though I was momentarily disoriented because Ashton Kutcher, not Ben Affleck, was reading all of Fred O’Bannion’s lines, I very quickly started to enjoy myself. Dazed and Confused is just such a familiar movie. Affleck might have been absent, but on the screen next to him were two actors reprising their original roles: Cole Hauser played Benny, with a familiar pouf of curly hair, and Wiley Wiggins was immensely endearing as Mitch. Wiggins’s hair was shorter than it was in 1993, and his face a little wider, but he still touched the bridge of his nose and had an expression on his face like he was trying very hard not to burp. And though other characters were sometimes hard to identify—either because they were being played by completely different actors, or because 27 years have passed since this movie came out and not everybody has aged as timelessly as Matthew McConaughey—I felt like I was Zooming with old friends.
Ticket sales for the live reading benefited voting rights organizations March for Science and Voto Latino. An impressive 50,000 people tuned in, according to a spokesperson.
It was my first time watching a virtual live reading, so I don’t know if it’s the norm for readers to break character or for the narrator to consistently remind actors that it’s their turn, but that’s what happened last night. A lot. “Michelle, get closer to your microphone,” Jason Reitman said to Michelle Burke, who played Mitch’s older sister Jodi then and now. “That’s you, Jason,” he prompted Jason London, a.k.a. Randall “Pink” Floyd, who is far scragglier now than he was in 1993. Rory Cochrane was so in character as the spectacularly stoned Slater that he had to be reminded of his cue almost every time he was in a scene. “There’s a reason we didn’t do a table read twenty-eight years ago,” director Richard Linklater said in a Q&A at the end of the two-hour reading of the full screenplay, after moderator Patton Oswalt asked him, between laughs, how he had wrangled such a scatterbrained cast.
As awkward as the event was at times, many of the original actors brought the same chemistry to the reading that has made the film such a joy to rewatch for multiple decades. Parker Posey, as Darla, had retro glasses on and was chewing gum with such a youthful obstinance that her cast mates could hardly keep from laughing. Christin Hinojosa was sweetly wide-eyed as Sabrina, even when she refused the “air raid” command from a very drunk Darla. Adam Goldberg as Mike was just as pompous as in the movie, and Anthony Rapp and Marissa Ribisi, as his BFFs Tony and Cynthia, were just as patient as the foils to his anxiety. Sasha Jenson, as Don, was hard to recognize at first because he wasn’t wearing overalls and his eyeglasses were obscuring his iconic eyebrows, but his acting was just as sparky and lovably terrifying as in 1993. Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson was, naturally, perfect. Much better than alright.
Special guests included Kutcher as O’Bannion, Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles as failed party-host Pickford, Friday Night Lights alum Adrianne Palicki as Pickford’s mom, and American Gods’ Ricky Whittle as Pickford’s angry dad. Replacing Milla Jovovich as Michelle was Eiza González, a Mexican actress known for her work in El Rey’s From Dusk Till Dawn series (and, more recently, for sucking face with Timothée Chalamet in some paparazzi photos). New Girl’s Lamorne Morris brought not just a sense of playfulness to the role of Melvin, but also an Afro wig.
As enjoyable as the reading was, the Q&A that followed was even cuter. Moderated by Patton Oswalt—who is, like so many of us, a nerd for Dazed and Confused—it served as an opportunity for actors now in their forties and fifties to reflect on the experience of making a movie that went on to become a classic. “I feel like I’m at a high school reunion,” said Burke. Parker Posey agreed, adding that she was “so touched” by the chemistry and intimacy of the cast all these years later. Joey Lauren Adams recalled fond off-set memories, such as seeing Junior Brown at the Continental Club and staying up all night with her cast mates at their hotel, annoying the staff. Jensen talked about how McConaughey brought them to some Hill Country river, and Burke even brandished a photo of some cast mates on a sandbar, mid–tubing trip.
Anecdotes and behind-the-scenes trivia abounded. When asked about the drinking game that has developed around his persistent nose-touching in the film, Wiggins gave his “apologies to the families of all those who have been lost” as a result. McConaughey spoke about the origin of his “alright, alright, alright” catchphrase (long story short: it was some subconscious representation of three things he understood about his character) and how it means so much to him because they were the first three words he ever said on camera. Everybody talked about how much they want to get together for the thirtieth anniversary in 2023.
It got even more earnest when the special guests weighed in about what the movie meant to them. Morris said it was one of three VHS tapes he owned in childhood, and Palicki spoke about how much the spirit of the Friday Nights Lights series—another iconic piece of Texas media—was influenced by Dazed and Confused. Kutcher made London cry a little bit when he said the movie helped him figure out what kind of man he wanted to be. When London responded by complimenting Kutcher on his performance in That ’70s Show, things got a little too earnest and I had to look away.
The night ended on the reason they were all there in the first place: the upcoming election. Oswalt asked the various Texans what they hoped for their state in 2020. Palicki said that she hoped Texas would turn blue. Linklater said he just wanted everybody to vote, so the state’s population can be fully represented in its politics. McConaughey agreed. “Voting isn’t a partisan issue,” he said, though of course it has been for a very long time.
Whether or not the live reading will have any tangible effect on the outcome of elections in Texas in 2020 remains unclear, and, I’m tempted to say, unlikely. But it’s a stressful time to be a Texan, an American, or really anybody. Everything’s up in the air, and sometimes it feels like the only salve to our collective anxiety and pain is the art that distracts us by bringing laughs and joy. And on that front, the Dazed and Confused live reading definitely delivered. At least for me.