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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

* * *

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Tyler Hoechlin

Late in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!, the hero worries (as much as anyone in a film this laid back can be said to "worry") that he and his teammates might look like poseurs, having spent the weekend drifting in and out of various scenes around their college campus, going to a disco one night, a country and western bar the next, a punk show, and an interactive performance party put on by art students. His companion can only shrug. Isn't that what they're at college for? To try out different hats, free from the confines of their parents' homes and their adolescent identities and without being loaded down with all the responsibilities of adulthood, and see what fits. Though never as deep or poignant as Linklater's Boyhood or Before Midnight, nor quite as much fun as Dazed and Confused, to which this film acts as a spiritual sequel, Everybody Wants Some!! makes for a nice, gentle diversion, a film that is well-equipped to entertain even if it's not all that memorable.

Everybody Wants Some!! is set during the weekend before the commencement of the 1980/81 school year at a Texas college, it's main character, Jake (Blake Jenner), is a freshman recruited on a baseball scholarship, and the rest of the major players are the teammates with whom he'll be living in a house just off campus. Though there are some less than friendly undercurrents - the seniors resent the freshmen, seeing them as arriving to take their place, the guys all being athletes, there's competition in every interaction and it's always fierce, particularly between those of them who have a shot at going on to the Major Leagues, and everyone dislikes the pitchers, who exist in their own unique mental space that players of other positions can neither understand nor breach - for the most part everyone gets along, though given that over the course of the weekend the guys seem to exist in that sweet spot between buzzed and drunk, that's maybe no surprise.

Over the course of the weekend, the guys drift from one party to another, one form of competition to another, one set of girls to hit on and hook up with to another. The girls, in particular, are a preoccupation that colors everything else in their lives with Finn (Glen Powell), the de facto leader of the group, noting that when they're playing baseball all they talk about is girls, and yet when they're with girls all they seem to be able to talk about is the fact that they're ball players. For Jake, the girl question gets answered pretty quickly when he meets Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a performing arts student, and they hit it off. If they were two teenagers today, they'd probably describe themselves as having "a connection," but here they're happy to leave it undefined. They like each other and maybe it will be something and maybe it won't - Everybody Wants Some!! isn't about searching for and finding the answers to life; it's about the moment when the future is wide open and anything could be possible. Like the characters themselves, the film is carefree.

Everybody Wants Some!! is an extremely relaxed film from a filmmaker who isn't trying to prove anything more than that he can make a movie where all the characters are expected to do is hang out. There's no real plot and the closest the film comes to a crisis is with respect to the increasingly bizarre and intense behavior of Jay (Juston Street), a pitcher who will tell anyone who will listen that he's been scouted and who is ready to throw down with anyone at any time over slights both real and perceived. Everybody Wants Some!! doesn't share any characters with Dazed and Confused - the connection between the two films is more about the vibe and the fact that one is about the last day of the school year and the other about the days leading into the beginning of a new school year - but it does share character types, and Jay is like O'Bannion, the jerk in a sea of more likeable people. Similarly, Jake and Finn aren't unlike Mitch and Pink as the freshman and the upperclassman who takes him under his wing to show him the ropes, and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), another pitcher who turns out to be at the college under false pretenses, is an echo of Wooderson, the older guy trying to hang on to some part of his youth by refusing to move on from something he's aged out of.

At this point Linklater is deep enough into his career that it takes a lot for a new project to be counted as one of his best. He's got a few genuine masterpieces to his credit, a few great entertainments, and every once in a while a clunker like The Newton Boys or The Bad News Bears. Everybody Wants Some!! is mid-range Linklater - high mid-range, but mid-range. It's funny, it's warm, and it has characters that are worth just hanging out with for two hours, but it's never as meaningful as Linklater's great movies, nor is it as iconic as Dazed and Confused. But it's a good movie, solidly crafted and unfolded with an effortless sense of calm because Linklater knows exactly what he's doing. Everybody Wants Some!! might be a trifle, but it's a trifle of the very best kind.

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