Wesley R. Ball’s review published on Letterboxd:
Introducing "The Last Twenty Minutes," a series where I choose to examine the final twenty minutes of films to examine their greater meaning in reference to the rest of the picture. Spoilers for the denouement may be within, but I doubt that it would be possible to really spoil a film like Dazed and Confused, so I won't specifically mark it as such.
Near the start of the final 20 minutes of Richard Linklater's fondly reminiscent feel-good high school flick Dazed and Confused, we see a shot of someone trying to pour beer out of a keg into their cup, to their dismay it's empty. Their futile struggles don't manage to squeeze out a single drop, and in frustration the hand attached to an unseen figure pours out the mouthful of beer left in their plastic cup, overturning it on top of the keg's nozzle. It's here where the last 80 minutes or so of unadulterated freedom that we've seen on the screen for our newly liberated (for the summer, at least) high school characters are beginning to wind down from their afternoon and evening of juvenile antics and delinquency.
Pink and a few of his other friends have decided to sprawl around the football field, indulging in their chosen vices while choosing to enjoy what little darkness is left just before the dawn breaks over the horizon. They've all survived a lot from the previous night- hazing, physical violence, threats with deadly weapons, alcohol, drugs, love. There's a lot that goes on in the mind of a high schooler when released from the bonds of the educational system for a few months, and all of the unrelenting freedom from the release of a summer vacation was just previously let out in an all-out explosion of anarchistic celebration. Mitch sneaks back into his own home, unsuccessfully, meeting the worried yet understanding look of his mother, who lets him off with a warning. The freshman survived his personal scholastic purge, and is left on his bed to drift off to Slow Ride playing through his headset.
But as "Slow Ride" by Foghat begins to swell louder and louder until it permeates the film itself, we see Pink, Wooderson, Slater, and Simone cruising down a highway, to an unknown destination. Their newfound, if only temporary, freedom now realized, they indulge in each other's company as Linklater shows their faces ripe with boundless joviality. This is the culmination of everything that Dazed and Confused has been working up towards. The past 100 minutes have consistently been the displays of youngsters simply enjoying the company of one another, with the occasional bully showing up to mix things up for a change. Through all their adversity, they still all have each other, and in high school, the relationships that you make during those years, although they may not last long past that stage, can often make the biggest impact on the shaping of your own future. People come and go throughout your entire life, but it's often the people we meet and connect with in our high school years that stick for the longest in the recesses of our memories. Because those times were the best of times. Times when there was far less for us to worry about. No adult-oriented responsibilities. No (or not nearly as many) bills to pay. No permanent job career to uphold. All we had- all we needed- was each other.
Dazed and Confused is a monumental and joyous observation of those times. Linklater takes us even further back before millennials came about to a 1976 day in the life, a time when things seemed simpler and cheaper for everyone. Everyone is happy, creating fond memories that will be cherished for years to come for them. As we get older, we begin to realize our juvenile behaviors and learn from them to better ourselves, but the fun we had at the time is not to be denied. Dazed and Confused would work if thought of as a flashback from Mitch's perspective (or perhaps any other given high schooler in the film), perhaps he's dreaming of these times when things were taken far easier for him. Whatever way the viewer chooses to look at or interpret it, there's certainly a lot of fun to be appreciated from Linklater's most well-known achievement. It's the first part of a disconnected trilogy (followed up unofficially by Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!!) that scrutinizes and celebrates people on the cusp of grasping the beginning of adulthood, barely beginning to take on responsibilities and requirements that have yet to make themselves known to these unsuspecting post-adolescents.