When a film is made set in high school or college, there has been a massive shift on the people we focus on in our stories. Many years ago, jocks and cheerleaders ruled the school, and a jock fell for the nerdy girl who took of her glasses and was beautiful. Now that the people who were marginalized in school for being nerds have the filmmaking power, we get stories about why they’re great. Jocks are now the enemy, the bullies, the morons. Everybody Wants Some!!, set in 1980, centers on the group that would’ve been the stars if the film was made in 1980. This is a movie about a group of young jocks looking for girls to bed. However, Richard Linklater, being the mad genius of subtle psychological diving that he is, makes his jocks far more dimensional, interesting, and fun to be around than any film has ever had them be. They are just like everyone else in college, looking to fit in.
It’s the weekend before classes start in college, and freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) moves into one of the two ramshackle houses that the baseball team calls home. In Linklater fashion, there isn’t much here in terms of story. Like Dazed and Confused, which this is billed as a “spiritual sequel” to, this is a hangout movie. The team sit around their house, go to parties, hit on girls, sing in their car, walk around campus. Y’know, hangout. The closest thing to a story with a beginning, middle, and end is Jake pursuing cute theater student Beverly (Zoey Deutch). Your enjoyment of the movie is almost entirely dependent on if you like hanging out with these guys and find their search for an identity interesting.
Linklater assembled a terrific group of young actors here. Sure, they look a bit old to be college students right out of high school, but once they settle into their group dynamic, any physicality issue I had with them washed away. They do authentically look like they could be baseball players, so I’ll give them a point for that. With the ensemble reaching over a dozen members, each person could be lost or not particularly well-defined, but within the first two minutes of meeting each of them, every actor is able to establish fully their own, distinct person, making their camaraderie much more lively and interesting than a bunch of bros talking about girls. Finnegan (Glen Powell) is the amateur philosopher who believes he can adapt to any situation to get a girl. Jay “Raw Dog” Niles (Juston Street), the movie’s ace scene-stealer, is the egotistical, odd pitcher, willing to prove his strength and power at any given second. McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) is the team’s leader who takes losing poorly, to put it mildly. And there’s a dozen more. Each one unique and fun.
What breaks these guys away from being stereotypical jocks is how they willingly put on any mask to survive in a given environment. Over the course of the weekend, they head out to a disco, a country bar, a punk show, and a drama school costume party. If it means having the best time possible, they will go right along with it, even if the music or environment is not something they’re particularly into. It also goes to show you that these people, at their core, are just a bunch of kids looking for purpose. In true Linklater fashion, this realization sneaks up on you. His films have the illusion of meandering, making the thematic full circle all the more rewarding when it hits you what’s happening. Occasionally, the dialogue puts a bit too fine a point on that, but it can be easily forgiven because by that point, you’ve been hooked.
The movie’s chief goal, though, is to make you laugh. And I laughed. A lot. Not every joke works, and some of the humor we are meant to find in the hazing of one of the players made me squirm a bit in my seat. But 75-80% of the jokes land, and in a comedy, having that amount of hits to misses is rare nowadays. Linklater found the perfect way for these personalities to come together and clash to bring out the best in the comedy. Everybody Wants Some!! is a character-driven film, and if the characters don’t work, the jokes don’t work.
While this does not stand with Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, and the Before trilogy in Richard Linklater’s pantheon, Everybody Wants Some!! makes an excellent addition to the man’s terrific winning streak of movies and will be a staple of my DVD comfort rotation, I’m sure. It doesn’t have many grand ambitions. It simply wants to make you have a good time, and in that, it more than succeeds. Don’t go in expecting story, a three-act structure, or anything like that. Go in ready to enjoy some fun conversation with a group of delightful characters. You won’t be let down.
Categories: Film Festival Reviews