'Everybody Wants Some!!'
Twenty-four years ago, Richard Linklater made the jump from the world of DIY indies to Hollywood with the anthropological high school comedy ‘Dazed and Confused‘. Now he’s back with a companion piece of sorts in which his camera wanders around the social scene of a college campus in the early 1980s.
Like the previous film, ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ starts in the world of horny young folk partying in a manner familiar to countless high school and college comedies, then slowly grows into a more thoughtful exploration of the lives of actual human beings. The movie doesn’t quite match the depth of its predecessor, but that could very well just be a limitation of the somewhat less universal subject matter. Even ‘Dazed’ itself didn’t really reveal its hidden charms until after a few extra viewings.
Blake Jenner stars as Jake, a blank-faced freshman arriving at his first weekend at college about to learn that all the clichés and rumors are true. He’s entered school to play baseball and soon finds himself sharing a room in a rowdy pair of houses where all the teammates live. Cocky athletic star McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) and philosophical ladies’ man Finnegan (Glen Powell) immediately introduce him to the mixture of mockery and debauchery that will define his university life. Jake meets and mingles with his teammates before spending a few nights going out to various bars based in popular music trends of the time. Days are spent getting high and trading ideas, while evenings are spent desperately trying to meet college girls for obvious reasons. One smartyparts drama student named Beverly (Zoey Deutch) catches his eye and becomes his quest amidst the hazy first few days before classes begin.
If all that sounds a little clichéd, it’s likely no accident. Linklater has fun setting up party movie expectations before departing from them to find something a little more real and quite a bit more interesting.
Unsurprisingly, ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ shares the rambling ensemble character study vibe of ‘Dazed and Confused’, which is a little more complex than its breezily entertaining exterior suggests. True, the movie is filled with laughs and raunch. That goes without saying. The characters are all initially defined as certain comedic types, such the rambling stoner (Wyatt Russell) or the overly competitive meathead (Austin Amelio). However, through the gently conversational world that Linklater creates, all of them prove to be more complicated than they first seem. They’re people rather than just characters, with all the foibles, flaws and broken dreams that suggests. Linklater has that special ability that a few filmmakers including Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson share, where we often feel like we know and become friends with the film’s characters by the time the credits roll. Yes, it’s ultimately all a goof. There are no big tragedies that make people cry and reveal their inner selves (thank God). Everyone just seems to expand in depth from the more time the audience spends with them. You know, like life.
There’s something cheeky about giving that sort of depth to fratboy characters, which I’m certain isn’t lost on Linklater. Technically, the characters in this movie are teammates and roommates, not frat bros, but the group dynamics are ultimately the same as a fraternity even if no Greek letters or initiation ceremonies are involved. Fratboys are a cultural punchline these days for good reason, but they’re still people too and aren’t all bad. Linklater delights in slowly teasing that out. The movie indulges all the pitfalls of frat life, including competitive binge drinking and the obsessive pursuit of women, but the more time spent in the company of these characters, the more we see that they’re just people and those party pursuits are harmless. It’s all very loving, sweet and funny.
The cast is remarkable. Once again, Linklater was allowed to skip the star system and find fresh faces that suit every role. It’s hard not to like them all. Although the cast is decidedly male centric with only on major female role, which some might find a little shortsighted, it feels more like a limitation of the subject matter than a flaw in Linklater’s design.
If ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ fails to live up to the high standard of ‘Dazed and Confused’, that’s likely because college just isn’t quite as complex a social environment to study as high school. After all, high school is a punishingly universal experience that throws every type of personality together for good or ill. It feels almost like a prison for adolescents drenched in melancholy. College is a voluntary social institution limited by class and segregated by fields of study and social groups. Linklater makes the film about a single house full of guys wandering through various cliques at clubs, bars, cafeterias, and eventually at a perhaps overly-elaborate drama party. We get a sense of the larger landscape, while being limited to the perspective of the house these guys belong too. That’s reflective of the college experience. It’s an accurate portrayal, just one that holds back the ensemble character study the filmmaker weaves together by perspective. The good time party vibes also limits any of those moments of melancholic introspection that helped ‘Dazed and Confused’ endure to wider audiences than the stoner crowd.
The biggest flaws in ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ come out of the unavoidable and unfavorable comparisons to ‘Dazed and Confused’. This is a companion piece that Linklater fills with little allusions and reflections to his breakout feature that I won’t spoil here. On the plus side, coming up short to ‘Dazed’ still means that it stands above most movies playing in theaters at the moment and most college comedies in general. It’s also one of the filmmaker’s most breezily entertaining movies in years, combining lovably recognizable characters, a pitch perfect period setting (oh so many moustaches!), insightful observations about college life, reams of delightful undergraduate philosophizing, a smattering of great jokes, and of course an amazing soundtrack of late ’70s/early ’80s music spanning across all genres.
‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ is designed to feel like a fly-on-the-wall at a series of great parties as well as a stroll through a living memory. It’s almost impossible not to be charmed by Richard Linklater’s playful new creation. Within a few years and after a few rewatches, the film might even reveal deeper achievements than are visible on the first pass.