Nearly 25 years ago, Roger Ebert called Slacker “a movie with an appeal almost impossible to describe.” Interestingly, that is the perfect description for Richard Linklater’s 1980-set sports comedy, Everybody Wants Some!! because, even though it’s a sterling Linklater film, the cards are stacked against it.
Everybody Wants Some!! opens blasting “My Sharona” by the Knack; however, I think Drake and Big Sean’s Blessings fits the 1980 comedy as well. For the college baseball players at the center of the film, “the pussy is the tightest,” “the drinks are the coldest,” and the future is “the brightest.” Actually, the Everybody Wants Some!! characters may be flying higher and feeling more blessed than Drake and Big Sean. They’re in heaven. Unfortunately, their heaven may be the personal hell of several audience members.
On the surface, the characters are douchebag jocks for whom college is a playground, not a place of higher learning. They play arcade games while constantly testing and quantifying their masculinity. They call the girls who rebuff their pick-up lines lesbians. They incite jealousy.
As Jay Z and Kanye West sum up perfectly in their 2011 collaborative album “Watch the Throne”: “Niggas hate ballas these days.” We don’t want to consider the thought that some people are just born luckier- more talented, more attractive, and we surely don’t want these lucky bastards all in one place. If you’ll recall, fans burned Lebron James’ jersey in effigy when he created his Miami Heat super team.
Moreover, unlike the reflective Boyhood which, admittedly, received criticism for its overwhelming focus on men, Everybody Wants Some!! merely celebrates. This celebration will seem like a slap to the face to anyone who doesn’t fit within these narrow confines, which begs the question: why should any woman and/or person of color or, for that matter, anyone who ever held the title mathlete go to see yet another film celebrating the joys of privileged white manhood?
It’s inexplicable, but I just love these kids.
The leading protagonist Jake (Blake Jenner) is endearing enough to avoid alienating the audience. He, streetwise elder classman Finnegan (Glen Powell), and empathetic but frank upperclassman Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) have strong chemistry that makes for a charming trio. Actually, each member of the ensemble cast gives their character an indefinable charm and charisma. Watching them is the cinematic equivalent of holding a puppy in your lap as it alternates between nipping at your nose and licking your face. You’ll giggle in spite of yourself.
Linklater’s writing pinpoints the comic flaw in each character. At their most disgusting, the guys are unintentionally self-deprecating. Basic proto-fuckboy Roper (Ryan Guzman) checks himself out in the mirror as he brags to whomever will listen that all the ladies love his “cheese.” (Can traditional male bonding rituals be more homoerotic?) Soon, you realize these are silly, sweet, sometimes misguided twenty-somethings with universal growing pains that provide more than a few laughs and satisfy your schadenfreude. They’re baseball playing kids coming-of-age, not ballers.
Also, Linklater is an actor’s director. In movies like Bernie and School of Rock, Linklater takes an underrated actor like Jack Black and displays his innate talent. It’s unclear whether he is just hand-picking great talent or bringing out dormant talent. Either way, Everybody Wants Some!! is better for it.
We shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves though. These kids are still winning in life. Finnegan, Dale, Roper, and McReynolds swagger through the movie. Even the nerdiest of brothers do their nerdy works with panache. Surprisingly, this helps. If the film was less idyllic and nostalgic, it would collapse. Feeling, not plot, propels the movie. (Linklater seems to have a different perspective on life. He doesn’t believe in huge transformations. Many of his films happen in the gap between the big events. As opposed to the first day of class, Everybody Wants Some!! occurs the weekend before classes begin. Life happens between engagements, Linklater seems to suggest.)
And while Dazed and Confused, the somewhat prequel to Everybody Wants Some!!, is a minutely painted and, by all accounts, accurate portrait of teenage life in 1976, it often lagged whereas Everybody Wants Some!! speeds along driven by debauchery. Plus, Everybody Wants Some!!’s intensity is heightened once the audience realizes the frivolous, fun, carefree times will inevitably end.
This is not to say that Linklater abandons his roots. He retains several elements from Dazed and Confused— the kick-ass soundtrack with music from Sugar Hill Gang, Van Halen, Parliament, and Queen; the painstakingly accurate and unique portrayal of a specific time and place, in some part due to Linklater’s familiarity with the material (Linklater attended Sam Houston State on a baseball scholarship); the pathos of an older man clinging to his youth; the token black friend.
Yes, like in Dazed and Confused, there is only one black friend who, in this case, helps highlight the whiteness of the other characters. The same can be said of Linklater’s treatment of women. All of the young girls are pretty, waify, human metonymies of the archetypical hot girl. And they’re usually wearing short shorts. Beverly (Zoey Deutch), the freshman theater major playing Katharine Hepburn to freshman pitcher Jake’s Cary Grant, is the exception. Actress Zoey Deutch gives us a real young woman. She situates the character in the middle ground between Zooey Deschanel in New Girl and Ellen Page in Juno. While Page’s Juno is the world’s most mature teenager and Deschanel’s Jess is a beauty whose cutesiness often overshadows her brains, Beverly is as bright as she is bright-eyed. Even so, Everybody Wants Some!! is an ode to bros and, by necessity, Deutch’s screen time is modest. In this way, maleness too is underscored.
Here, Linklater deserves the benefit of the doubt. In his previous films, he has made no bones about intricately portraying white, usually male, culture. In its own way, this is a breath of fresh air. Unlike in many films, mainstream or independent, whiteness is not valueless. It is not a default for the everyman.
So, though Everybody Wants Some!! treats white, heterosexual men as the center of the universe, Linklater makes it clear that they are only the center of their own universe. White culture is thoroughly explored and, rather than assuming the audience should identify with the characters simply because white men should be the default human, he gives them admirable characteristics (that the actors exploit).
Stepping into the theater I asked, “Do audiences need to see another film about white boys coming of age?” The answer is no. You don’t need to see another, but you’ll want to see Everybody Wants Some!! regardless. The thrill of it transcends all. You’ll leave the theater, like you left high school, college, or primary school, wondering whatever happened to those guys you knew – truly knew- in school. And fortunately for you, you may find out. Linklater apparently intends Everybody Wants Some!! to be the second (after Dazed and Confused) in a trilogy.
Everybody Wants Some!! written and directed by Richard Linklater stars Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner, J. Quinton Johnson, Glen Powell, and Wyatt Russell. Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug use, and some nudity.