I’ve intermittently loved and hated Richard Linklater’s work. Coming off of prestige drama Boyhood (which I maintain is interesting but overrated) and sticking his toes back in the boy-comedy period film pool that made him famous with Dazed and Confused (which I predictably can’t stand), the director’s 1980-set Everybody Wants Some!! (those exclamation marks are part of the official title) promised to be the long-awaited companion piece to 1993’s Dazed, a college comedy set 4 years after the seminal high school story, also featuring a large, fresh-faced ensemble and very little actual plot. Linklater has worked wonders with no plot before (Before Sunrise is a masterpiece) but it’s not exactly a reliably effective habit to call a trademark. Still, a strong enough cast of characters can carry an audience through even the most abstract of slice-of-life stories and that’s exactly what the surprising and sweet Everybody Wants Some has.
Blake Jenner, a hopefully rising star who got his start on the Glee Project, leads an intensely likeable cast of doofus dudes who make up the university baseball team. Set entirely in the first week of school before classes and formal baseball practices actually begin, Everybody Wants Some is mostly just a series of hazing pranks, parties and trips to various themed bars (disco, western, punk) to meet girls. At bay in the background for most of the film is a simple boy-meets-girl between Jenner and Zoey Deutch but the main point is the film’s remarkable sense of community and world-building.
Linklater paints student athlete culture, baseball culture in particular, with a wonderfully detailed brush, crafting a cast of characters who feel at once typical and unique, each defined in some way by the role they play on the team (pitchers, it seems, are all weirdos; a hippie named Willoughby has an excellent speech explaining why). The music, costumes, art decoration and cinematography of the film capture the era perfectly, making the viewer want to spend a week in this world with this memorable ensemble, including standout Glen Powell as one of 2016’s great cinematic characters, the philosophical, verbose scamp Finnegan, and new Superman Tyler Hoechlin whose “resident All-American” McReynolds is the perfect early-80s alpha heartthrob with his short shorts and black mustache.
An inescapably male movie largely about what it is to be a young man, there’s really nothing to the female characters (of whom there’s really only one of consequence) in Everybody Wants Some but, rather than the androcentric oversight that quality usually is in film, here it plays as a feature of the characters’ experience and point of view. Their lives only include the women they actively seek out (then, with the exception of Jenner’s Jake, never contact again). For most male athletes, often to tragic effect, it’s almost entirely the men in their world that really shape their lives and Linklater captures that awkward reality perfectly.
The boyish hijinks and direction-less party quality of Everybody Wants Some makes my fondness for the film an unlikely reaction but Linklater is at his absolute best when he allows himself a touch of romance and the nostalgic love he clearly has for these characters and this world is nothing short of that.