My college career was nothing like Richard Linklater’s.
I didn’t attend school on a baseball scholarship or live in a rowdy dorm. I didn’t spend my weekends smoking, getting drunk, and chasing girls. I was a painfully shy introvert who went to college only about 10 miles away from where I grew up. Three days a week, I went to class and headed home (or to work). I had my first alcoholic beverage long after I turned 21, and I might have gone on two dates during my entire college career. The closest I got to a sport was mastering “Simpsons” trivia.
There should be nothing that resonates with me in this ode to 1980s bro life. In fact, if you asked what kind of movie I would least be excited about, it would be one that follows a bunch of jocks as they get high, get drunk and get laid. Oh, and sometimes play baseball.
But Linklater has always found depth in the seemingly trivial. A director who’s unparalleled at creating transcendence from minor moments, he also has a knack for capturing the look, sound and feel of a place and time with such specificity that it becomes universal. Add to that the contagious affection “Everybody Wants Some!!” has for its characters, and the result is a raucous romp that examines masculinity, tribalism and coming of age without ever losing its good-time vibe.
Jake (Blake Jenner) is a college freshman who checks into the house where the school’s baseball team lives the weekend before the fall semester begins. Over the course of the next three days, he passes the time razzing and playing stupid games with his teammates. In the evenings, they hit the nightclubs, party and pick up girls. There’s no overarching plot, no obstacles to overcome and (on the surface) no major lessons to learn. The characters only play baseball once, and that’s just a practice. Like most Linklater movies, it’s easy to look at this and say nothing happens. And, like most Linklater films, people who say that aren’t paying attention.
The film is billed as a “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed and Confused,” the director’s 1993 classic. There are definitely some similarities. Like “Dazed,” this is a period piece. There are no shared characters, but it’s easy to imagine this taking place just down the road. Like that film, the movie’s in no rush to get anywhere, content just to watch its characters sit around, have a good time and pontificate. But unlike “Dazed,” which followed a sprawling ensemble, “Everybody Wants Some!!” is focused primarily on Jake as he navigates the last few days before college. In that way, it could just as easily be a follow up to “Boyhood,” which ended with Mason experiencing a weekend that shares many similarities to Jake’s. “Everybody Wants Some!!” is quintessential Linklater, and fans will be able to identify the easygoing rhythm and empathy that have become his hallmarks.
That said, it took me a little while to warm up to the film. When Jake arrives at the house, it’s chaos. One roommate nearly floods the place trying to fill a waterbed and the instant Jake meets the team’s star player, McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the egos start clashing. The players brag and tease each other, a bunch of alpha dogs vying for supremacy. They play competitive games, flip out over losing ping-pong and wrap each others’ knuckles bloody. I cringed, preparing myself for two hours of bro-dom.
And then five guys cruised around rapping to The Sugarhill Gang, and I fell in love.
This scene is an early contender for my favorite of 2016. It’s not played as a big moment or a gag; it’s not Wayne and Garth singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Rather, the film follows the guys as they drive around town, trading verses on “Rapper’s Delight,” and perfectly captures the dynamics of male camaraderie and lazy silliness. What should be cliche and cringe-inducing becomes energetic and joyful. The same laid-back vibe flows through the entire film, and turns what could have been an obnoxious, juvenile romp into great fun.
Linklater never judges his characters for their immature actions. As with “Dazed and Confused’s” pot-smoking, mailbox-smashing seniors, he understands that boys will be boys and often act like idiots as they try to fit into their specific tribes. The guys frequent various bars, trying out different personas. Are they disco lovers? Country line-dancers? Punk rockers? This is all grouped under a larger goal — finding women — but Linklater makes it clear (and even has a character comment on it): this is the time for them to be free, figure out who they are, and try new things because the time to grow up is drawing increasingly closer.
The characters start out obnoxious because that’s what happens when you bring eight young men into one house. They are all used to being the best in their schools, and they come to college hoping to maintain that superiority. The film captures the macho preening and aggressive competitiveness that serve as bond rites. A countdown to the start of class is a constant reminder that there’s a finite time for this behavior. This isn’t Linklater indulging in nostalgia or trying to recapture his youth. It’s him looking back on his own past fondly with mature eye. There was a time for it, but it’s gone (“here for a good time, not a long time,” a character says). And while he never judges his characters, neither does he wallow. He depicts a time when young men were a bit more raucous and their objectification of women was a bit more accepted than it is today, but he hits the beats and moves on before it becomes gratuitous.
And these obnoxious bros eventually take on depth. As we watch them hang out, their personalities come into focus. Whether Jake’s smoking pot and waxing philosophical with the film’s loquacious Linklater stand in, Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), or playing a heated game of table tennis with McReynold’s, we see how friendships are formed through these college rituals. The film is a clever depiction of good-hearted — but sometimes overly exerted — masculinity, and even if your college years looked nothing like this, you can likely identify. The dynamics were similar if you were a fraternity brother, a youth group kid or a theater nerd. I’m sure most groups of young men considered good-natured ribbing a sign of affection, just as I’m sure every group had the designated punching bag (here it’s hayseed Buetter, played by Will Brittain) and the oddball (Justin Street’s Niles). By the end of the film, these bros who annoyed me became guys I loved spending time with, thanks in large part to Linklater’s knack for casting unknowns who fit their roles perfectly. In coming years, this could be seen as Ground Zero for several healthy careers in the same way “Dazed and Confused” was for its cast.
And it’s not all horsing around. As I said, there’s the constant countdown to the start of classes, and the film occasionally lets freshman anxiety filter into the dialogue, whether it’s through uncertainty about what to major in, fear of not being the big man on campus any longer, or of encountering challenging new views. And while Jake might be perfectly happy to chase girls early in the weekend, the film gives him a tentative encounter with drama major Beverly (Zoey Deutch) in the film’s back half. After spending so much of the film in the male gaze, the film suggests that Jake is looking for something more, and Brenner and Deutch’s scenes together are sweet; a late-night swim fits comfortably in Linklater’s pantheon of transcendent moments.
No one would have blamed Linklater for picking something light and easy after 2013’s emotionally eviscerating “Before Midnight” and his 12-year epic “Boyhood.” And on the surface, “Everybody Wants Some!!” could be just an excuse to horse around. And granted, a few things don’t quite work. Linklater doesn’t always seem to trust himself here and has characters spell out the film’s themes. On the one hand, that’s something that happens with college kids, who like to spend the hours navel-gazing and philosophizing. But on a few occasions, his normally strong dialogue feels a bit too on-the-nose. And while most of the characters become fully developed by the end, I never quite felt Stiles quite meshed with the reality of the film. I understand the character is meant to be an oddball, but Street plays him in a way that feels closer to the texture of “Napolean Dynamite” than Linklater’s realistic college universe.
But these are minor hiccups in a hugely enjoyable experience. The film is deceptively light on substance, but every scene and conversation are intentional. Linklater’s camera is restless, capturing the testosterone-laced energy of the kids. Every philosophical conversation reveals more about the characters and every needle drop is perfectly picked. And when the team assembles to practice near the end, a simple scrimmage is filled with so much energy, tension and humor because of how well Linklater’s captured the team’s dynamics. Those early scenes of hanging out and competitive bickering are essential to building a championship team, and everything that happens on the field has added weight and drama because of what we’ve spent the past two hours watching. “Everybody Wants Some!!” isn’t Linklater coasting; it’s him working at the height of his skills and making it look effortless.
For 25 years, Linklater’s been one of the most compassionate and humanistic filmmakers, able to find beauty and meaning in small moments and create characters and settings that feel real and familiar. “Everybody Wants Some!!” fits perfectly into his filmography. It’s a joy hanging out with these characters.