In Dazed and Confused, Parker Posey as Darla rules the school in her first big feature film role. On its 30th anniversary and Posey's birthday, Sabrina Cooper writes about her fierce and fiery performance.
"All right, you little freshman bitches," was our introduction to Parker Posey as Darla in Dazed and Confused, a film about high school students, hazing, good times and getting stoned. She delivered these words with gusto and all the right ingredients: one part voice, another part stance, and a generous portion of attitude. A trifecta of bitchiness—meant lovingly—considering it was her first feature film.
Thirty years ago, Dazed and Confused—directed by Richard Linklater—hit the silver screen. As Darla Marks, Posey was impossible to ignore. When Darla first enters the scene, she’s in the middle of a hazing ritual which she religiously performs with devotion and unquestionable authority: she and her besties drizzle ketchup and mustard with a dusting of oats and flour all over the bodies of the incoming freshman girls, making them wear baby pacifiers, and reveling in a whole bunch of humiliating tactics (’’Air raid’’ and parading them around in dog leashes, for example). The other students on the perimeter look on in horror, and some find it entertaining.
Unflinching, uncompromising, and a devilish delight, Darla stands out in this coming-of-age story, especially as the testosterone-heavy cast (Matthew McConaughey, Jason London and an almost unrecognisable Ben Affleck) dominate screen time. Whenever Darla interacts with the other kids at different points in the afternoon and evening, you know you’re in for something cringeworthy but admittedly fun. She sometimes behaves like a fellow classmate’s worst nightmare—a dreadful feeling looms over what she might do and what might unfold in the scene—but in this ensemble film, Darla shines. Whether she’s making life miserable for the younger girls, gossiping with friends in the restroom, or stumbling and socialising while drunk, the character controls the conversation and mood of her interactions. Perhaps many of us knew a person like her.
It’s 1976, and it’s the last day of high school in a small town in Texas. It’s an occasion to throw old homework into the air and celebrate an entire summer ahead. The boys who will be high school freshmen in the fall are also avoiding the soon-to-be seniors: Many of the older students are stalking the younger kids around town with their wooden paddles to spank (more like whack) their behinds. That night, the school’s different cliques gather around and meet up with one another—everyone had to change their plans after Kevin’s (Shawn Andrews) parents figured out he had organised a raging party at home.
Under the haze of a heavy marijuana cloud, the popular girls (like Darla), the nerds, the jocks, the stoners and the students in between run into each other at high school hang outs: a billiards hall and the area near a moon tower. The plot meanders from one social group to the next with Randall (Jason London) as the connector: He gets along with pretty much everyone. And then there’s Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), the one guy—a little bit older than everyone else and can score Aerosmith tickets—who utters that one line of a lifetime: “Alright, alright, alright.”
Darla is also there, spreading her sweet yet sinister energy. While Wooderson and the stoners embody the lethargy that accompanies smoking pot, Darla and some of the other seniors stand at the opposite end of the spectrum, adding drama and conflict as the film moves forward. They take pleasure in the freshman class’s pain.
After we first meet Darla in the afternoon (in striped shorts, white knee-high socks, Nikes and a white top with “SENIOR“ printed across her chest), she ensures that all the younger classmates know she’s reigning Queen Bee. Just before the freshmen girls are taken away in pickup trucks to go home, Darla speaks yet another unforgettable line to a first year girl: “What are you looking at? Wipe that face off your head, bitch.’’ The effectiveness and tone cut like a sting from a slap in the face. It’s peak Darla, and Posey delivers it like a pro. In fact, Posey asked to add this very line to the script from a Brecht play she performed in college.
Music being the universal language translates extremely well in Dazed and Confused. Plus, it wouldn’t be a teen classic sans soundtrack, revealing more about the zeitgeist from almost 50 years ago. When Cherry Bomb by The Runaways plays in the background as Darla comes into the foreground—dancing at the moon tower party—the chorus repeats, ’’Hello, world, I'm your wild girl/I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch, cherry bomb.’’ Could there have been a more mellifluous duo of Darla with this Runaways single?
Like the fiery theme‚ one of the final scenes at the party includes a tense exchange between Darla and a freshman named Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa-Kirschenbaum). When Darla says, “Air raid, freshman,’’ Sabrina refuses to move. Darla then threatens her: ’’Oh, that’s it, Miss Hot Stuff. I’m going to make the next year of your life a living hell.’’ And you know she will, as she walks off into the distance with her evil laugh.
The fear Posey struck into the heart of viewers when she spoke “All right, you little freshman bitches’’ was everything. For some people, Wooderson’s repeated trio of Alright will define the film for them. However, to take another Wooderson line and adapt as an ode to Posey’s performance, it would go something like this: We get older, but Parker Posey as Darla stays the same age.