Jayce Fryman’s review published on Letterboxd:
So I want to start off by discussing something I just thought of as I was finishing this movie. I was thinking about the way that this film allows us to see the way that modern media has experienced a sort of nostalgia creep. What I mean is that if you were to watch a film from today that has the same distance that this film did to its in-universe present, you'd be watching films about 2002. But we aren't, and why is that? I think there are a couple reasons. First, I think that anything 21st century, and especially post-9/11 has been almost tainted by that events and similar ones. Because of this we reach further back to a moment where the perceived levels of violence and conflict like this are less. This is despite the fact that the AIDS crisis and Reagan era was in the 80's, many of the most well-known serial killers were active in the 70's, the 60's, for all its progress still had some serious issues, and the 50's were literally only good for the white upper and middle classes. But, conveniently, we lack the same sort of constant records that media like the internet keeps. The other element of why we are experiencing the nostalgia creep is that we have gone past a moment where youth was a major element in filmmaking. All of the young aspiring directors from this era have stuck around and continue to make movies celebrating their nostalgia. Even though the entry to filmmaking is lower than it has ever been, it has also become all the more difficult to make a splash in the film world. The third thing that I think really has affected things is the loss of shared cultural experiences(although really it is more the recognition that there are people other than middles class white men who have experiences). The newer generations are more diverse than ever, and with the splintering of media and culture, we don't have the same sort of quintessential moments that affected everyone. All this aside, I think that Linklater here does a good job of creating nostalgia while also reflecting critically on the era he presents.
Set on the last day of school in 1976, we follow over a dozen of characters all around their small hometown in Texas over the course of the day. We get to look in on various social groups and various ages, and see the ways that the high school experience affects them. Most notable in the critical column is the way that Linklater presents the "rites of passage" that the freshman experience. We get to see toxic masculinity and some really gross traditions perpetuated by the incoming seniors, as the boys get paddled and girls get covered in food and forced to degrade themselves for the pleasure of the seniors(of both genders). We also get to see other unpleasant characters such as Ben Affleck's character who gets the most pleasure out of beating the freshman and Matthew McConaughey's character who utter the worst line of the film, "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age." Now if you want to argue that this is a different time, and that they didn't know any better, go right ahead, just know that I don't think the film supports you, as we hear Kaye relying upon feminist talking points to criticize Gilligan's Island and we see Simone(Joey Lauren Adams) clearly recognize that there is a cycle of humiliation. At the same time, Linklater infuses the film with iconic elements, particularly the music. Every single song on this soundtrack is one I am familiar with, even though I did not grow up in this era. The other thing that is really notable about this film is the way that it is star-studded, but before any of these people really developed their stardom. Overall, I think this is a really enjoyable film, even with some unpleasant moments, and it really showcases the way that Linklater is both using nostalgia, but also providing some critical readings of the past as well.