What if it’s okay to drink beer, chase girls and horse around? In the year of our non-denominational, culturally unappropriated lord 2016 this is almost a heretical concept, and yet it’s one that Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! sells to you with a genial, easy-going smile.
Billed as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is actually quite different from the 1993 film that broke Linklater out. Where Dazed and Confused was a sprawling, meandering look at the last day of school for a group of high school kids, many of them underdogs, Everybody Wants Some!! is laser-focused on one character as he spends his first weekend away at college. The Texas period settings link the two, but they are approaching the world in very different ways; the bittersweet comedy of Dazed and Confused has given way to something more confident. Dazed was about kids finding (and losing) their places in the world, but Jake, the lead character in Everybody Wants Some!!, is a guy who is truly coming into his own.
Jake shows up on campus and is already king of the school. As a baseball player he is treated like royalty - the team is set up in two cool houses off-campus where they can do whatever they like, the local bars give them free beer and there are girls everywhere. You want to talk about privilege, these guys are swimming in it. The movie has a continuing countdown timer - it starts with three days and a few hours until the first class starts - but that timer is meaningless because school, in a larger sense, is meaningless. Nothing matters to these guys beyond the immediate moment and their immediate camaraderie.
Within that hedonistic framework Linklater casually examines the meanings and modes of masculinity. The baseball house - essentially a frat house but without the extreme hazing - offers a controlled environment in which he can peek in on a lot of young men and see how they deal with the heady combination of privilege and raging hormones. Jake, the stand-in for Linklater who himself lived in a baseball house in college, navigates these different young men as he finds his own path to manhood.
The film is told almost exclusively through a male lens, and every named character but one is a male. That’s not a mistake or an accident, but rather a representation of the homosocial aspects of early college life. It’s a specific point of view chosen so we can see these guys as they see themselves; Everybody Wants Some!! plays like a memory put on film, and memory is selective. You don’t recall the classes and you don’t even always recall all the sex you spent so much time desperately trying to have. You remember sitting in a room with your friends, talking about bullshit, playing dumb games, giving each other a hard time. You remember the small moments most of all, because life is made up of small moments.
Within those small moments - which have always been where Linklater does his best work - are the small things that define us, and that define these men. Each of the characters in the house are lightly sketched; nobody is having a crisis or undergoing a major life experience. The most dramatic events of the movie happen totally offscreen. But in the small moments in between each man in the baseball houses reveals himself, and each man reveals his own version of masculinity. All of the guys in the house are hyper-competitive, but some take it too far. One of the guys is too aggressive, clearly trying to make up for his own failings. Other guys approach women in different ways that reveal more about themselves than any speech could. Linklater proposes a world of self-regulating masculinity, one where hyper-macho behavior is shunned but a true apology for it is slyly accepted. Being too aggro in a mosh pit results in being ejected from it. At the end of the film Jake takes part in a silly play at a theater kid party and his whole team - slightly baffled by the art school crowd - unironically cheers him on. Linklater is observing all of this but he’s also having Jake find his way through it, and using him - a bemused, kind, poetry-quoting renaissance jock - as a vehicle to explain what the ideal version of masculinity looks like.
Don’t get me wrong - Linklater isn’t here making grand statements. These things are all there, but they’re under a thick layer of good time hangout vibes. Linklater’s particular genius is that he not only represents the reality of the world he has seen but that he represents it gently; there is little judgment coming off the screen. And that allows us to just get into the groove of hanging out with these guys, which is an endlessly pleasurable experience. But the statements are there, they’re just down deep. I imagine that Linklater has learned a lesson from Dazed and Confused - people will watch this movie again and again, and he’s stocked it with themes that will reveal themselves over multiple viewings (having seen the movie twice now I can say this with some authority).
Anchoring it all is Blake Jenner as Jake. Jenner is perhaps blandly handsome, but it makes him a good center for the plotlessness around him; while Dazed followed different groups over the course of a day and a night, EWS!! is focused almost entirely on Jake - he’s in just about every single scene. Jake’s out there chasing girls, but he quickly meets someone who speaks to him in a different way, Zoe Deutch as Beverly, another freshman. Deutch is wonderful in that she has a fullness to her - her Beverly feels like a complete character who is stepping in from another complete movie. In her movie she’s the new kid in the college theater scene who happens to fall for a jock outside of her circle, and that movie is just as gentle and sweet as EWS!!, but with a very different POV.
Jenner and Deutch have great chemistry, which makes their late-film scenes together, where they discuss the passions in their lives, truly sing. It ends up being part of the film’s larger thesis, and it speaks to the universality of Linklater’s specificity. Sure, she never played baseball at the college level, but the experiences and desires and goals of Jake are not that different from Beverly, it’s only the surface details that are different. They both want to spend their time doing something that matters to them, and they both have come to college to explore who they are. I’d love to see the sidequel that covers Beverly’s first weekend at college, and Deutch is so good that I can believe it actually exists.
Surrounding Jenner at the baseball house is a murderer’s row of young talent. Tyler Hoechlin, the kid from Road to Perdition, is all grown up as the swinging dick batter McReynolds, a guy whose team leadership occasionally gives way to being a sore-ass loser. Wyatt Russell is Willoughby, the hippie dippie pitcher who offers Jake some valuable perspective on life on the mound and also does the most amazing bong rip I have ever seen on film. Those two represent kind of opposite ends of the temperamental pole, and right in the middle is Glenn Powell as Finnegan, a pipe-smoking joker who, more than anything else, makes me think of Otter from Animal House.
I love each of these performances (and the other supporting performances, including a woefully underused Will Brittain as the hick on the team), and I love that Linklater loves them. Each of these guys gets to be a unique person; too often in a film like this the non-lead guys melt into each other, but it takes only a scene for each of the characters in EWS!! to become their own full person (although to be fair it did take me a second viewing to nail down all their names). And while some of the guys in the movie have had careers - you’ll recognize Powell from Expendables 3 and Russell from 22 Jump Street - the movie is also full of guys who are brand new. J. Quinton Johnson, playing Dale, is the actor who most seems ready to pop out of this movie and into something major, and I had never laid eyes on the guy before. Somebody’s going to cast him as a superhero.
Speaking of laying eyes upon these guys - while EWS!! is a guy movie, the entire film is soaked in a sort of lustful female gaze that led Vulture to call it the gayest film of the year. The pants are tight, the shirts are short and the men are often half-clothed or simply showing off their arms and bellies. It makes for a much more idealized movie than Dazed, where everybody looked like a regular kid, but thematically it works - these guys are at peak guyness. They will never, ever be as hot or as cool as they are right now. And the movie doesn't treat that as a tragedy. "Here for a good time, not for a long time," Willoughby says at one point.
There’s more to Everybody Wants Some!! - it’s also an exploration of how music defines us and how we search for community through music, it’s also a look at the way we do and do not challenge ourselves, it’s also a loving goodbye to the 1970s and a social era that can never exist again - and that’s what makes it so great. On the surface the movie seems thin, shallow. It’s a great time! It’s a party! The guys are funny! The hanging out is cool! The pranks are just funny enough without being cruel! But Linklater knows how to layer things below the surface, and he has fit a totality of experience into two hours that represent three days that actually represent a whole phase of life.
In a world full of toxic masculinity, of #notallmen assholes and GamerGate creeps, Everybody Wants Some!! is a welcome reminder that being a man isn’t inherently bad. That there’s nothing wrong with dudes getting together and having a good time. That the choice to be a good man or a bad man is just that, a choice, and Richard Linklater convincingly argues that it’s an easy choice to make.