Alright, alright, al… you get the point. Last night, Jason Reitman brought his Live Read series, presented by Film Independent, back to the Bing Theater at LACMA for a special reading of one of the most influential films of the 1990’s. Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused was an inspiration for a generation of screenwriters, filmmakers and actors that are now beginning to hit their stride in Hollywood. Therefore, it’s only appropriate that Reitman filled the stage for last night’s reading of the script with a mix of actors that have a little name recognition, but are poised for their breakouts. Just like the storied cast of Linklater’s love letter to the last days of nothing to do.
As is the norm with Film Independent Live Reads, the evening’s performance was to be an audience only event – meaning no pictures or recordings of the reading were allowed. The cast for the evening’s festivities didn’t include anyone from Hollywood’s A-list, but the night was full of talented comedians, ready to give their favorite movie a shot. In attendance were Mae Whitman as Sabrina, Travis Tope as Mitch, Catherine Reitman as Kaye, Jason Mantzoukas as Mike, Paul Scheer as Pickford, Whitney Cummings as Darla, Michaela Watkins as Jodi, Nick Kroll as O’Bannion, Jonathan Tucker as Benny, Eric Andre as Don, and James Van Der Beek as Pink. This may have been one of the largest casts assembled for a Live Read, but all but one of the actors had to do double time for the amount of characters Linklater called for in his script.
The version of the script Reitman chooses for Live Read is traditionally an early draft so that the audience can appreciate the changes that the film takes on its way to the screen. The Dazed and Confused screenplay is viewed as near perfect for it’s unique pace, witty dialogue and it’s tone perfect portrayal of the teenaged, high school experience. This version of the script leaves out the football pledge and has a much smaller role for Wooderson, the part made famous by Matthew McConaughey. Honestly, if I ended up with McConaughey in my cast, I would move some things around to increase his presence too. Oh, and there was nothing about red heads. Boo!
As the movie got underway Nick Kroll showed very early he was going to be the man to watch as his performance of O’Bannion (originated by Ben Affleck), Slater (Originated by Empire Records‘ Rory Cochrane), and Tony (Originated by Rent‘s Anthony Rapp) were all clearly distinct, enjoyable characters. His O’Bannion was more threatening that Affleck’s but when he gets his comeuppance he’s even more hilarious and surprisingly sympathetic. Smartly, Kroll’s take on Slater was 100% pure impression of Rory Cochrane’s previous take on the role and Kroll killed it. Milking every last laugh out of the world’s most beloved stoner character behind Tommy Chong.
Speaking of impressions, it is tradition for Jason Reitman to recruit at least one member of the original cast to return for the Live Read. For Dazed, it was pretty clear which character’s name was missing from the stage, Wooderson. One intrepid crowd member called it out for us, “Where’s Wooderson?” Reitman responded vaguely, “Good question. Who will be Wooderson? Place your bets.”
As it turned out, McConaughey was the intended original cast member to return, but scheduling conflicts kept the actor in New Orleans. So who stepped up to the plate to cover? The surprisingly on-point Mae Whitman. Whitman appeared to know every line of the film by heart as she anxiously awaited every sentence and laughed half a beat early because she knew what was coming. When the time came for Mae to slip into a McConaughey-esque Texas drawl, she eased into her “Alright, alright, alright!” just fine. Always an impressive part of the live read, Whitman went above and beyond to charmingly nail Wooderson’s cavalier douche-baggery.
Travis Tope’s Mitch was much more reserved than the film version, playing the character as borderline socially inept instead of the aspiring everyman Pink sees potential in. It works well for the character and does more to make Pink seem like a better man than intended than serve Mitch.
Parker Posey stole every scene she appeared in during the original Dazed and Confused and Whitney Cummings didn’t let the famed character actress down when she screamed, “Air Raid!” at the top of her lungs. This was her Live Read debut, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her again. She just owns.
Jonathan Tucker, Paul Scheer, Eric Andre and Jason Mantzoukas were inspiring as they switched casually back and forth between multiple roles of seniors, freshmen and stoners. Paul Scheer showed a mean streak with Clint, Jonathan Tucker channeled a perfect Cole Hauser for his role as Benny, and Jason Mantzoukas picked up on some definitively Adam Goldberg traits in his performance of Mike.
Michaela Watkins had a reserved likable air to her characters. Jodi came off as if Michaela had created her fresh for the evening. Jason’s sister Catherine Reitman stole a number of scenes where the power balance in the film was in favor of Jodi. Her confident delivery making a Gilligan’s Island conspiracy theory a highlight of the night.
And finally, we come to Pink. Jason Reitman said that he thought no one would believe Jason London was a quarterback. So, for the evening, Reitman brought in James Van Der Beek. For one night only, Dazed and Confused was getting Varsity Blue. Van Der Beek’s swagger and charm could have placed Mox himself into the ’70’s. If the final script had been in place, “I Don’t Want Your Life!” could have easily been dropped into the final scene.
The only thing truly missing from the night was the music. As “Sweet Emotion” started to crescendo in the background of the final pages, I realized that’s what the film had that drove so much of the movie’s tone and irreverence, the rock-n-roll, man. The soundtrack wasn’t an after thought, Linklater had specific tunes marked for specific scenes in the movie. It was just as much of a character as Benny or Pink and the night felt hollow without it.
Overall the cast was solid, the script was as charming and poignant as ever. The night was another win for Jason Reitman’s continued experiment that is Live Reads, presented by Film Independent at LACMA.