April 8th, 2016: Everybody Wants Some!!

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Everybody Wants Some!!, writer-director Richard Linklater’s semi-sequel to Dazed And Confused, is infectiously funny and endearing, a comedy about college life that first reminds you of how much fun college was, then of how much you miss it.  Filled with great Eighties music from Blondie, Pat Benatar, Van Halen and Talking Heads, and set four years after Dazed’s “last day of school in 1976”, the new film is different from its predecessor, not just in soundtrack and period, but in style as well.  It’s not shot like a documentary, nor is it an art film disguised as a stoner movie, as Dazed was.  It focuses not on an ensemble of interconnecting cliques and rather on one very specific clique.  But the two films share DNA.  Both are about nostalgia, social initiations and coming-of-age, about identities forged from breaking the rules and having as much fun as humanly possible.  Lively and charming, Everybody Wants Some!! is a hangout comedy about partying and getting laid that also, in subtle ways, plays like a bittersweet memory.  (Only in hindsight was everyone you met in college so attractive.)  It’s a damn good time, but it also knows that the best times are those we don’t recognize until we notice them in the rearview mirror.

Freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) arrives at an unnamed Texas university three days before fall semester starts.  He moves into a dilapidated house off-campus designated for members of the school’s elite baseball team.  Jake, like Pink in Dazed or Mason in Boyhood, is one of Linklater’s confident sponge protagonists — handsome and stoic, constantly absorbing the world around him without letting it crack his sturdy sense-of-self.  His teammates are a colorful bunch who seem mean, but only because, to them, respect is something you must earn.  Finnegan (Glenn Powell) is like Van Wilder played by Brad Pitt, a schmooze artist who, whether discussing astrology, physics in baseball or hitting on chicks, seems to be seducing everybody all the time.  There’s Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the mysterious holdover from the hippy era; the perpetually pumped Niles (Juston Street), a self-promoting ace who exemplifies why everyone thinks pitchers are weird; and tempestuous McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the big-hitting senior for whom, unlike the others, a future career in baseball may not be a delusion.  With these winning characters, the movie is both a raucous frat burlesque (a la Animal House) and more; it’s a story of Bro Culture before it had a name, with a roughhousing cast of alphas and would-be lotharios who are really just figuring life out as it whizzes passed them like a knuckleball.

As with many Linklater films, there isn’t much traditional plot to speak of, rather a series of incidences, and the freewheeling course of events breaks up into several parties, each highlighting a specific cultural attitude vying for attention in the Eighties ethos.  The boys boogie at a club filled with silk shirts and latent disco queens, line dance with country girls at a local honky tonk, mosh with punks at a rock show, where the band plays a thrash version of the Gilligan’s Island theme (a perfect medley of pop culture ubiquity and ostensible rebellion), and even throw a kegger themselves.  Toward the end, Jake brings his bash brothers to a soiree given by drama majors, in a house scrupulously decorated in the psychedelia spirt of Alice In Wonderland.  The film reveals, in its desultory party-hopping fashion, how 1980 was a critical juncture in American culture, when the convergence of styles past and contemporary could overwhelm anyone looking to figure out where they belong.  At one point, Jake remarks that their social life is a masquerade, that playing dress-up is really the collegiate methodology of identity soul-searching.  He inelegantly articulates what we can already see with our eyes, in an example of the dialogued philosophizing that has unfortunately crept into Linklater’s work.

The movie fully won me over with its romantic side, though.  Of the copious coeds roaming campus, Jake decides early that he likes intellectual Beverley, played by Zoey Deutch with the innocuous kink of Isla Fischer and the brainy loquacity of Anna Kendrick.  When she asks him what he wants to study, she’s really asking, “What do you want to do?”  And Jake can’t answer because he can’t think passed playing baseball and having fun (imaging the future would harsh his buzz).  For all Linklater’s laid-back no-sweat storytelling, his sagas of slacker slumming, his true interest is quite deep: a person’s place in time — how age, period and memory shape the experiences we’re having right now.  The Before Trilogy had its countdown clocks and decennial rendezvous, Boyhood its growing-up-before-your-eyes conceit; but Everybody Wants Some!!, like Dazed before it, seems uniquely frozen in time, especially with The Cars lyric “Let The Good Times Roll” echoing in our ears as we exit the theater.  That’s why Linklater’s cinema, and its affinity for rock-infused in-the-moment party addiction, is so heavenly to watch; it leaves you suspended in that blissful moment when the party never needed to end.

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