Remember the Daze was originally graced with the much more interesting and opaque title The Beautiful Ordinary, which I assumed was changed in a desperate grab at, if not exactly commercial “relevance,” then at least rib-nudging double entendre, in a play for the stoner video rental crowd. But no, this teen flick, written and directed by Jess Manafort, is actually so singularly, hopelessly devoted to the score of marijuana and other illicit substances that its rechristened moniker is actually a much more sensible fit.
Set during 1999 over the evening after the last day of high school in Wilmington, North Carolina, Remember the Daze is such an obvious rip-off of Richard Linklater’s brilliant Dazed and Confused that it’s nearly breathtaking. The scheming on chicks, commingled incoming and outgoing classes, taking of drugs at inappropriate moments and other bawdy acting out, all centered around an outdoor kegger, are all here. In the wayward-mentor Wooderson role, meanwhile, The Girl Next Door‘s Chris Marquette appears, probably as a package deal/favor to his fat brother Sean, who offers up a subhuman impression of Jim Belushi and constantly snaps his fingers by wildly shaking his hand. (That’s his “thing,” don’tcha know.) The movie’s other influences are easy to spot, too, right down to the silent, nerdy outsider (Charles Chen) who wanders around taking everyone’s picture (instead of filming them) a la American Beauty.
It’s of nominal interest that Remember the Daze is centered mostly around girls. The intertwined stories find Lucy (Amber Heard, above left), bored with own habitually absent boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), attempting to hook up with the equally deadbeat boyfriend, Dylan (Khleo Thomas), of her cheerleader pal Stacey (Marnette Patterson, above, second from right). Her reasoning is that this is a favor, since Dylan is such a jerk, and may be cheating on Stacey (?!). Best friends Tori and Sylvia (Leighton Meester and Katrina Begin) take mushrooms while babysitting for some kids, while another pair of Lucy’s friends (Melonie Diaz and Lyndsy Fonseca) share a sapphic secret. Other characters include a trio of recent eighth grade grads (headed by Alexa Vega) who hook up with punk band Over It, fronted by Bailey (Elephant‘s John Robinson), plus a bunch of Dylan’s friends, led by Eddie (Shahine Ezell).
There are some energetic, charismatic and piecemeal intriguing performances here, but Remember the Daze might be a bit more interesting if not everyone — including Lucy’s inexplicably bitchy younger sister (Hoot‘s Brie Larson) — was out to get blunted, drunk or high on ‘shrooms. It’s such a quick and lasting point of focus that it makes the movie come across as a parody of a teen party flick, which Manafort’s writing doesn’t have the slyness to maintain. Still, though my exasperation came early and stayed late, I’m not completely willing to write her off; Manafort obviously has a nice touch with actors, giving her cast a good bit of leeway and positive encouragement, which results in a film littered with canted, and frequently enjoyably cracked line readings.
The chief problem is that Manafort’s script is pretty terrible, though. It breaks no new ground, which is not a huge sin, but it also features ever-shifting rationales and motivations, and for every nicely staged scene there are two or more atrociously put together sequences. There’s no flow here, and the lack of big-picture cohesion is most embodied by Stacey and Dylan’s weird, hot-cold relationship; whenever it’s convenient for them to be bickering, Manafort pushes this drama, but in certain group scenes at the party the pair walk right by one another, not engaging in positive or negative terms. A bit of music from the era (including Third Eye Blind, Sublime, 311 and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals) gets trotted out, but the setting of 1999 seems an artificially significant, arbitrary choice — just like much about this very derivative work. “Smoke, drink, don’t think!” says one character about halfway through the film; it was obviously that same sensibility that informed its creation, regardless of its title.
Remember the Daze comes housed in a regular Amray case, and is presented in 16×9 widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Apart from its own trailer, and preview trailers for Senior Skip Day and a couple other First Look releases, there is an unbilled, loose-limbed, 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette which includes on-set interviews with the cast in which they fondly detail the movie’s shoot and its challenges (very cold weather during a few outdoor evening locations) and many thrills. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) C (Disc)