About as lovable and endearing as a men’s rights activist, the American college frat boy movie has long been one of comedy cinema’s impossible wins. Constructed wholly from cliché, you’ll be hard pressed to find a single shining example of the genre that isn’t tainted by its own odd desperation and overwhelming irrelevance. Yet, with his latest feature film, Richard Linklater has managed to turn all of that around and produce something breezily brilliant. Hardly a surprise really; he is the king of the party movie who brought us the seminal Dazed And Confused.
Everybody Wants Some!! is billed as a ‘spiritual sequel’ to Dazed; a statement that makes a whole lot of sense when watching the film. Like Dazed, Everybody Wants Some!! feels intrinsically linked to a time and a place (in this instance Texas and summer of 1980) – just four short years after the era so specifically mined in Linklater’s beloved precursor. Not only that, but there’s a level of lived-in experience to this movie. It feels semi-autobiographical (and probably is; Linklater played baseball in college). It adds an earthy legitimacy to the all (and nothing) that follows.
Ostensibly we follow freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) from his arrival at his new college dorm (an off-campus communal house) through to his first lecture of the semester. Where Dazed And Confused charted the bittersweet end of something, Everybody Wants Some!! fizzes with the anticipation of the new. It operates with a similar tone of optimism to that found in the final scenes of Linklater’s celebrated Boyhood, picking up for Jake where we left off with Mason. And once you get past the jocular preoccupation with getting laid (more on that later), Jake and Mason are actually pretty similar.
Linklater deftly avoids numerous pitfalls here. Boasting a fresh young cast bursting with testosterone, Everybody Wants Some!! and it’s let’s-party-and-get-some attitude feels as though it ought to collapse under the pressure of inevitable one-note misogyny. This threat is weighted in no small way by the almost complete absence of dimensional female characters. And yet, while his characters are all focused on scratching some inaugural notches on their bedposts, Linklater manages to craft something of relative depth and nuance out of their endeavours, in the process raising his film far above the horny ambitions of the likes of Porky’s or American Pie.
In a similar manner to last year’s surprisingly excellent Magic Mike XXL, Everybody Wants Some!! finds empowerment in its portrayal of hedonistic young men while also subverting several expectations. The film celebrates youthful vanity and optimism. In one of the many, many memorable scenes, we witness Roper (Ryan Guzman) admiring his rear in the mirror before the lads head out for a night on the town. The boys rifle through each others’ shirts, worried about looking pretty and having the right outfit. There’s a communal bottle of cologne and concerns over how much to apply. These scenes of earnest preening reflect the insecurities of these characters. It’s brazenly openhearted. And these characters are jocks. American movies have spent decades telling us jocks don’t have feelings. Everybody Wants Some!! daringly suggests; what if jocks are people too?
Something else that’s immediately apparent is that Linklater knows exactly who these guys are. Every character in the house feels distinct and separate. Considered and unique. It’s the same level of credibility he afforded his young football stars in Dazed And Confused, and it’s part of Linklater’s successful formula for lending these movies their endurance. Not everyone’s going to get equal screen time, but virtually everyone rings as a true person rather than an etched-in ‘type’ with only a couple of exceptions thrown in for pure, unadulterated comic relief. But even then there’s a sprinkling of wisdom and pathos to Will Brittain’s guileless hayseed Beuter and Justin Street’s absurd pitcher Jay. Extreme as these characters are, they exist in a world grounded enough to accept that extreme people exist.
One suspects that, as he did with Dazed, Linklater may have cherry-picked some faces to keep an eye on here. The aforementioned Street has the comic timing to go far and frequently should Hollywood pay attention to him, while elsewhere Glen Powell particularly shows an effortless flair for screen charisma that may very well translate into a handsome resumé. Predicting these things is always a crap shoot. It was often the peripheral actors in Dazed who went on to have the more remarkable careers. Nevertheless, one senses Everybody Wants Some!! contains a cluster of before-they-were-famous performances in the making.
There’s as strong a whiff of nostalgia here as there was with Dazed, perhaps even slightly more so, as Linklater goes to greater lengths to acknowledge tropes of the time period (a line-dancing fad; Space Invaders), seasoning his movie with their existence. It’s not too heavyhanded, but it is more pronounced. But, like all of the other anticipated shortcuts here, it’s balanced by how well Linklater sells the sincerity of his characters.
Yes, a lot of the movie is about the supposedly petty concerns of getting laid, but that isn’t the point of it all. Rather like how a wildlife documentary will show you the bizarre mating rituals of some flamboyant species or other, Linklater paints a studied picture of college life. Young people are concerned with having sex, and so it’s a credible part of their depiction and therefore feels authentic rather than exploitative or silly. The whole film is a mating dance, and Linklater’s also wise enough to sweeten it with a significant dollop of heart.
That’s where Jake comes in, and the unapologetically romantic connection he tentatively starts to build with Zoey Dutch’s Beverly proves just enough of a dramatic fulcrum to steer us through nearly two hours of solidly good times. Like so much of Linklater’s best output, Everybody Wants Some!! feels deceptively simple, when really it’s expertly paced and perfectly directed. While we’re on that subject, this is probably the most aesthetically pleasing film Linklater has put his name to. The director has spent his career perfecting a style which is unencumbered by ego. Visually speaking, Everybody Wants Some!! is quite possibly his best work yet. Every frame is pleasing without being so arch as to announce itself and pull you out of the movie. What may seem like frivolous subject matter is given credence by the master presenting it. He makes sunny afternoon baseball practice feel like the most beautiful thing in the world. Which, to these characters, it is.
At the end of the film, wasted and ecstatic with their lives, Jake and Plummer (Temple Baker) slump into their first lecture ready to tune out. As the professor waxes lyrical about his class’ great opportunity to concentrate on their aspirations in life, the boys shut their eyes. You could view this act as the pair brazenly disengaging with the subject, but maybe they’re embracing it? Opting, with every hope, to follow their dreams.