Magazine | May 23, 2016, Issue

Golden Days

Think about a stereotypical college or high-school comedy. Then think about its villains. You can picture them, can’t you — smug, dumb jocks, striding the football field or hanging around their frat house like lords of the earth, treating women like objects and lesser men like serfs, just begging for the comeuppance that only a serf-turned-screenwriter can give them?

But have you ever wondered what the world looks like from their point of view? Hath not a jock eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick them, do they not bleed?

This is the conceit behind Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! (yes, two exclamation points, as in the Van Halen source text), his first movie since the critically beloved Boyhood and another return to the Texas landscape that he’s painted so affectionately throughout his career. Here the setting is a Texas campus in the year of Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter, and our characters are a group of baseball players, just arrived on campus and settling into their autumn routine — meaning a round of practice, partying, and chasing the prettiest coeds they can find.

Everybody Wants Some!! is being billed as a kind of spiritual sequel to Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), an early-career peak in which his camera followed a motley group of Texas teenagers around on the last day of high school in 1976. There are similarities: It has the same relaxed, deliberately underplotted vibe, the same rambling bull-session dialogue, the same skillful use of era-appropriate music. But Dazed was a panorama of a high school’s social world, while this is a zooming close-up of the jocks; even when they tour the wider college world, it’s all seen through their eyes. And while Dazed was spiked with angst and fear and bursts of violence, Everybody Wants Some!! is a story in which almost all the characters get something that they want.

Our way in to this sunshine semester is through a freshman pitcher, Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), who enters the baseball house and finds a band of brothers waiting for him: the charming chatterbox Finnegan (Glen Powell), the scowling senior slugger Glenn (Tyler Hoechlin), the lively black infielder Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), the country bumpkin Billy Autrey (Will Brittain), the bearded stoner-philosopher Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), and a few more comrades. The movie then unspools over the course of a long weekend before classes begin, following the players from party to party, scene to scene, onto the baseball field and then back into the social whirl.

The through line, such as it is, consists of Jake’s pursuit of a girl named Beverly (Zoey Deutch), who flirts with him early on after rejecting his older teammates’ advances, and who turns out to be a theater major, which leads the baseball boys (who have already hit up disco, country-western, and mosh-pit scenes on their peregrinations) to a strange costume party in the movie’s final act.

But really Everybody Wants Some!! is less a story than an appreciation — of youth, athleticism (the actors can really play baseball, happily), long lazy hours, and music and the fairer sex. There are few real shadows and there is little conflict; the only intimation that this Eden is impermanent comes late in the film, when it turns out that one of the players has faked his age, that he’s a serial impostor trying to hang on to college ball and the college life. (This bit is also the clearest call-out to Dazed and Confused, whose most famous line was delivered by Matthew McConaughey’s twentysomething former high-school stud: “High-school girls: I get older, they stay the same age.”)

But even this surprise is more an amusement, ruefully accepted between games of ping-pong and attempts to bisect a slow-pitched baseball with an axe, than a real cloud across these young men’s Texas sun. Other sources of tension are entirely invisible: Race and class seem to matter not at all, the punk kids and theater geeks welcome the jocks, the girls are game and hard-drinking and nobody’s talking about “affirmative consent,” the hayseed’s fears that his girlfriend might be pregnant are waved away and proven groundless, and — as this is 1980 and not 1990 — absolutely nobody’s worried about AIDS.

Nor are they really worried about philosophical matters, the deep questions of life, which, as in Linklater’s other films, get batted around casually during the endless breeze-shooting, but not (despite what some of the movie’s critical admirers have suggested) with any memorable weight or wit or insight. But then, on the evidence of Linklater’s story, these men don’t need deep insights to get along in this phase of their life. All they need is what they have — the body’s grace and the guilelessness of campus godhood.

It’s a strange movie, all in all. Relaxed as always with Linklater, charming in its way, eminently watchable, but mostly dedicated to a proposition that every teenage dork and geek and loser knew already all too well: It’s good to be the king.

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