After making true crime story / dark comedy Bernie in 2011, the third installment in American cinema’s best ongoing relationship story Before Midnight in 2013 and Boyhood, the famed 12 years in the making familial epic, in 2014, arguably no other director is enjoying a better decade than Richard Linklater. Marketed as a sort of, kinda, spiritual sequel to his 1993 cultural touchstone Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! finds the 55 year old writer-director not necessarily wallowing in nostalgia, but using it as a framing device, exploring the lives of baseball party kids and, while letting them have fun, also letting them explore their new environment in college and learn how malleable their philosophies and identities can be.
The film jumps in headfirst and expects audiences to keep up, introducing over a half dozen baseball players in its opening minutes, all with their own specific quirks (and ridiculous facial hair), but with similar machismo and competitive nature. To freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) and the audience, its a bit overwhelming – and likely by design. Their goals during the weekend, when the film takes place, is to simply score chicks and get as high and drunk as possible, all of which seems to come pretty easily. It all seems so much like a cliched party, frat-boy type movie, that after the first party of the film, you’d be forgiven in thinking there’s nothing much else that’s going to happen. After the first party however, things start to slow down for the better as personalities start to be defined, characters get put in different lights and the writing starts to click into that wandering, natural, Linklater tone.
Jake, along with the other freshman Plummer (Temple Baker), Billy (Will Brittain) and Brumley (Tanner Kalina) are taken in by the upperclassmen, soaking up all they can about the new experience while struggling to acclimate to no longer being the big deals they were in high school. Jenner’s doe-eyed, up-for-anything demeanor makes a good audience surrogate and once Jake settles into a flirtation with Zoey Deutch‘s Beverly, a performing-arts major, he reveals himself to be someone who has more personality and smarts than just baseball bro – there’s a desire to be better, smarter and more rounded – a wish that the film itself fulfills throughout its runtime.
Prompting the change are transfer student / bong master Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), whose stoned advice is equal parts good advice and Philosophy 101 shorthand and Finn (Glen Powell) – the upperclassman who knows how to change just enough to fit in everywhere. He’s wise enough to adopt the costumes of the different places the team visits, but still able to keep the same energy whether he’s chatting up an art student or jamming out to some punk tunes. Giving the most memorable performance of the movie, Powell makes certain his character has a self awareness as he realizes how fleeting the baseball college life is, and how he wants to experience the most he can while he has it.
The drawback of using the baseball team as the jumping off point means an overload of machismo in the opening scenes and an unfortunate lack of different women in its runtime – once Deutch’s Beverly takes on more screentime in the second half, it’s apparent how much a break from the jocks was needed. But after hanging out with different groups and going to different parties it starts to become clear that Linklater could’ve made a movie about any of these people – from the punks to the disco dancers to those who frequent the country bar to the art school weirdos. It just so happens that, a former college baseball player himself, this world was the one he was most familiar with, and the autobiographical details help to sell the authenticity of the film and its plot-light tone. The remarkable thing is that though each group has its particular hangups and similar group politics, none of them are openly ridiculed or lambasted in the long run: they’re all ultimately shown to be really fun and inviting and open to whomever wants to try to fit in. It’s the ideal college (and life) experience: getting to know and appreciate new and different cultures while still remaining distinctly you.
A few of the jokes and characters play a bit too broad, likely trying to hit that sweet spot of fun, stoned, yet brainy and poignant that Dazed and Confused spent nearly its entire runtime in. But what Everybody Wants Some!! achieves for the most part is more than just a retread of old ideas. Linklater’s grown since that film, and his characters from Dazed, Boyhood and Slacker (another obvious point of reference) would have too. An awareness of finite experiences and the passage of time has long been a fascination for the filmmaker and with his last few films, he’s still got interesting ways to approach it. While this may not be as ambitious and powerful as Boyhood or the Before series, it’s not intended to be – the film is content with discovering and being itself.