Starting with his 1991 debut film Slacker, Richard Linklater has made slice-of-life moviemaking his stock in trade. From the grad-night exploits of Dazed and Confused to the long-term relationship examination of the Before... trilogy to the meticulous analysis of an entire childhood in Boyhood (the true best film of 2014, Birdman be damned), Linklater is less interested in plot mechanics and narrative strictures than he is with simple human interaction and small yet defining life moments. His films often have a free-floating hangout vibe, content as he is to simply spend time with his characters and relish in their musings and connections. His movies feel like relaxed afternoons with friends rather than capital-C cinema.
Dubbed by the director himself as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is another low-key Linklater soiree. As with its spiritual prequel, the film is a nostalgia-hued period piece (here, the early ‘80s rather than late ‘70s) focused on a pivotal transitional moment of youth, this time the onset of college as opposed to the end of high school. Our focal point is Jake (Blake Jenner), an incoming college freshman on a baseball scholarship who, at the outset, is just arriving at the dilapidated house he will share with his fellow teammates, none of whom exactly roll out the red carpet for him. Among them are the hyper-competitive McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), motor-mouthed Finnegan (Glen Powell), blissed-out hippie Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), cool and collected Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) and aggressive oddball Niles (Juston Street, rocking a Weird Al ‘stache). The smart, good-natured Jake spends the three days prior to the first day of classes getting to know this motley crew and quickly immersing himself in the freeing pleasures of the college experience.
And that’s basically it. In true Linklater fashion, Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t hinge upon any conventional storytelling beats. There’s no evil dean, no rival factions, no plot to save a fraternity from banishment, no real conflict at all. The film is out to chronicle a youthful rite of passage, one rooted in a very specific moment in time while also simultaneously universal. Even the initial resistance Jake is met with by some of his teammates quickly dissipates into genial chop-busting camaraderie. Linklater isn’t interested in manufactured conflict so much as he is in capturing an experience from his own youth that is easily relatable for anyone who ever pursued higher education. So loose is Everybody Wants Some!! that time seems to have no meaning as you watch it. After an hour in the disarming company of these guys, it feels as though we have spent a real-time couple of days with them, in the best way. It’s common to describe a film or television series as feeling “like hanging out with friends,” but never has this descriptor felt more apt than it does here.
As with Dazed and Confused, Linklater has assembled a murderer’s row of stars of tomorrow. Jenner makes endearing what could have been a bland protagonist, and Zoey Deutsch as his theater-arts-major love interest is equally winning. Perhaps the standout among the cast is Powell, whose Finnegan is a goofball capable of surprising wisdom and depth. There is also fine comedic work from Street, who grounds a character who could have easily been left to wallow in cartoonishness, as well as Austen Amelio (who sort of resembles an emaciated Matthew McConaughey, keeping the spectre of Wooderson present) as the hilariously foolish Nesbit. If there is any problem with the cast, it’s that there are so many team members (16 in total) that it occasionally becomes difficult to pin down who everyone is. Yet the jovial ambiance fostered among the group is incredibly infectious, overriding any issues of overpopulation.
While Everybody Wants Some!! dovetails most neatly with Dazed and Confused, it also feels in some respects like a continuation of Linklater’s other works. The meet-cute snowballing quickly into real connection suggests a revisitation of the youthful amorousness of Before Sunrise and Jake’s swift indoctrination into college life essentially picks up right where we left Mason in Boyhood. The film doesn’t replicate the marbles-bouncing-off-each-other rhythms of Dazed, which splintered its own sprawling cast off into a cross-section of varied high school factions rather than focusing on a single group exclusively, as is the case here. Yet I would argue that the warm bonhomie of Everybody Wants Some!! is more engaging in its presentation of a surrogate band of brothers who may yank your chain relentlessly, but also provide a welcoming sense of community. In its portrayal of a collection of jocks, the film could have easily devolved into an unappealing display of bro-ish douchebaggery, yet this bunch is never less than likable. The convivial atmosphere of Everybody Wants Some!! represents the college experience that everyone should want, and can count themselves as lucky to have had.
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