“Maybe the 80s will be radical,” muses one of the teens in Richard Linklater’s breakout hit Dazed and Confused (1993). Whereas the kids in that 70s-set film are trying to escape a decade – and a high school – that “obviously suck”, the young people in Linklater’s new film face the prospect of a college career loaded with expectation at the start of the 80s.
Certificate 15 116m 32s
Director Richard Linklater
Billy Autrey Will Brittain
Beverly Zoey Deutch
Roper Ryan Guzman
McReynolds Tyler Hoechlin
Jake Bradford Blake Jenner
Dale Douglas J. Quinton Johnson
Finnegan Glen Powell
Willoughby Wyatt Russell
UK release date 13 May 2016
Distributor E1 Films
Teed up as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, college comedy Everybody Wants Some!! shares the earlier film’s fascination with generational rites of passage, but edges its characters towards individualism and away from the collective. Shadowing a Texas university baseball team over a long weekend in August 1980, this is about the identity crisis brought on by different times and strange surroundings, about who to be and how to compete in a new world.
Jake (Glee’s Blake Jenner) is the film’s hero, a square-jawed pitcher confident enough to hold his own in his teammates’ ribald back-and-forth, but just soft enough to fall for their pranks and be designated “the quiet guy” by a hard-to-impress girl on the first day. Jenner’s background in teen TV perfectly suits him to this mostly wholesome role – an unscarred innocent whose accelerated development over the course of the film requires the occasional spark of anger or lusty determination.
His meandering progress through his first steps on campus, before classes begin, forms the film’s loose, repetitive structure. Each day is devoted to seemingly meaningless bro chat, each night to a party. It’s a symptom of what Jake calls his pre-term “identity crisis” that each party entails a change of venue, a different kind of music and a new look. He and his pals are adaptable, merely adding a hat or a duck-feet necklace to pass at each club, but that’s because their personalities are as yet only half-formed.
As a college movie, Everybody Wants Some!! is part of a genre stretching from The Freshman (1925) to National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), in which rules are broken, bonds forged, love found and indignities dealt out in a blur of sport and partying. As a comedy, it’s frequently hilarious, from the wisecracking dude banter that smothers almost every scene to set pieces such as an eccentric player’s freak-out over a drinks order, which turns into an elongated discotheque brawl. A bong session draws laughs out of ludicrous drugged-out mysticism, which in turn offers moral guidance to our young heroes.
There’s none of the humiliating gross-out humour that dominates modern teen comedy, giving the film an affable, breezy appeal – although, as often happens in Linklater-land, apparently light-hearted scenes are tinged with violence. The rush of what loudmouth older student Finn (a snappy, verbose turn by Glen Powell) calls “fuckwithery”, a form of humour that feeds off a victim, falters only when it threatens to do some serious ego damage, or when an unfortunate choice of words dents the team’s heterosexual machismo. The queasy look on the face of Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) after he splutters “temptation, my asshole” is a puerile case in point.
The two exclamation marks in the title are borrowed from a 1980 track by Van Halen, and while they’re a typographical horror, their excessive urgency suits the film and the testosterone-pumped protagonists well. The teammates’ constant ribbing is all part of their relentless competitiveness, which produces outbursts of violent temper and can even draw blood: a loss at table tennis results in a splintered bat; a simple game that involves smacking the opponent’s knuckles leads to a gruesome close-up of a swollen and seeping joint. When the players finally take to the baseball field to practise, their initially harmonious athleticism dissolves into a messy clash of personalities that establishes the game’s inherent split between team endeavour and opportunity to display individual talents.
It’s not easy for Jake and his fellow freshmen to find a place in this knife-edge dynamic, and an initiation ritual marks the pain of their introduction to college life. A hazing rite involving yards of duct tape and a flurry of baseballs is just as brutal as the beatings dished out by the older kids in Dazed and Confused, though it’s even more absurd and mercifully brief. The film’s most violent and strange moment involves no bodily pain, however, and is also one of its most gorgeous. During a hazy afternoon game of backyard baseball, the team’s most aggressive competitor (a lavishly moustachioed Tyler Hoechlin, himself a former college player) substitutes an axe for a bat and slickly bisects a ball in mid-air.
At first, the college kids here, like the cloudless Texan skies and the corporate rock that kicks off the soundtrack, are so oddly pristine as to seem almost not real. To a freshman and woman they have athletic bodies, primary-coloured outfits and white smiles; they find sexual partners with ease and chug free beer without ever getting sick or sloppy. But as the film passes through its four-days-and-nights structure, the surfaces dissolve and the characters start to question the consensus. Markers of difference that were once suppressed or mocked are revealed. ‘Being weird’ is transformed from a macho insult to a point of pride and, crucially, a way to impress the opposite sex.
The baseball house’s chief stoner, a passing-through Californian called Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), advises Jake early on to embrace his “inner fucking strange”. It’s tough advice to take when conformity is the squad goal: the point of all that joshing is to squash the tall poppies, and the team’s de facto leader Finn takes pride in his crew’s “pack mentality”. He emphasises the importance of being average each time he chats up a co-ed, describing the merely middling dimensions of his genitals. But Jake and Finn (whom Jake pegs as a “rationalist”) have almost emerged from their jock chrysalises at the end of the film. Finn reveals his true self through quirky accessories (a pipe, a kaftan and a Kerouac novel), while Jake embarks on a cute romance with the girl he met on the first day, performing arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch).
The first flush of the romance, a dorky split-screen phone call, comes late in the tale, and is a welcome shift in tone, a relief from the machismo that swamps the movie. Beverly is the film’s only even half-drawn female character and appealingly sweet and self-determined, if bland in comparison to the goofing, scrapping dudes back in the baseball house. Linklater has channelled the horny worldview of his leads so well that he repeatedly shoots the college girls at butt-level, and elsewhere sketches them as cheerfully pliant but otherwise vacuous sex objects. It’s not long before the overwhelmingly straight-white-maleness of this film palls, and mars what is an otherwise disarmingly perceptive comic triumph.
Overlapping conversation, ready laughs and impressively naturalistic performances from a cast free of A-listers give Everybody Wants Some!! the easy charm of Linklater’s best work. But if the filmmaker could take the advice of his own prog-rock-obsessed magical dopehead Willoughby and occupy “the space between the notes that they’re offering you”, he really could have made the 80s radical.
Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, a snapshot of life at a Texas university in the 1980s, offers an enjoyable mix of youth, beer, lust and sport, the hallmarks of a genre of American movies that goes all the way back to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. By Nick Pinkerton.