As a frequent film watcher, it’s interesting to observe the kind of cinematic whiplash I experienced these past few days. I spent my Friday night watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film with a plot so needlessly convoluted and meandering that I often felt suffocated by the weight of its own ambition. In contrast, my viewing of Everybody Wants Some!! offered the opposite experience, presenting an earnest and nostalgic look back on 1980s college life that revels in the fleeting youth of our lives.
Billed as a spiritual successor to director Richard Linklater’s acclaimed Dazed and Confused since it centers around another group of bored athletes and stoners, the film follows college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) as he moves off campus into the baseball team’s house the weekend before the start of his first semester at a small university in Texas. His teammates consist of a variety of eccentric characters, from the hostile alpha male of the house, McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), to the pot-smoking, The Twilight Zone-obsessed Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). The guys spend their final weekend of summer partying and lounging around their house, often getting in over their heads with various schemes to impress girls.
What’s fascinating about Everybody Wants Some!! is how much it succeeds despite its lack of a real plot. The characters face no central conflict beyond trivial inconveniences, such as getting kicked out of parties or getting ignored by girls they meet. Linklater instead opts to tell the story through a series of sketches that occur over the three-day period that the film encompasses in a style similar to that used by Kevin Smith in Clerks, complete with timestamps and frequently re-used establishing shots. It gives the film a “day in the life” feel that complements the “live in the moment” approach to life that the characters embody.
Linklater’s penchant for framing youth in a celebratory, albeit a bit rosy-eyed manner is on full display here. Everything from the Burt Reynolds mustaches and bell-bottoms to the meticulously placed shag rugs and record players demonstrates a careful preparation and an authentic understanding of ‘80s pop culture. The film takes its title from a Van Halen song, and subsequently includes an eclectic soundtrack from the era, kicking off with The Knack’s “My Sharona” and taking the audience on a roller coaster of “Hey, that’s a song my dad used to play!” moments that will have you grinning along with the goofy characters whether you want to or not.
The acting in the film is solid across the board. Jake is actually the least loudmouthed of a group of obnoxious jocks, yet that often feels like the point, as he serves as the audience’s cipher to the world of unrestrained hedonism that college offers. Juston Street gives a knockout performance as the near psychotic Jay Niles, chewing the scenery with every line he’s given and leaving even his fellow characters wondering whether he’s walked in from a completely different film.
Ironically, the film’s one real detriment is that it loses some of its momentum once baseball begins to factor into the story. The first and second acts are relatively fast paced, never lingering on any one scene for more than a few minutes at a time. This keeps the comedy tight and prevents jokes from being run into the ground.
However, once the team actually starts practicing baseball, the film begins to follow a more conventional storyline by introducing a love story and embracing a more linear narrative pattern. It’s possible Linklater intended this narrative shift to represent the encroaching specter of academic responsibility and the symbolic loss of freedom that the characters have ignored up till now, but it loses the easygoing feel that was the film’s greatest strength.
Part of the problem is that the obligatory love story isn’t really built up through the film to give it a tangible connection to the rest of the film. Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch) are only on screen together for maybe 15 minutes tops, and even then the dialogue is sparse. Compound that with the fact that Beverly is a stock character for this kind of film: she’s a performing arts major who analyzes rock music like it’s poetry and attends bizarre Alice in Wonderland themed parties, which reminded me of her character from the lackluster Dirty Grandpa. If her character had been given more of a presence in the rest of the film’s events, I think the film would have been stronger for it.
Everybody Wants Some!! is raucous and oozing with machismo, but it’s honest and relatable, something many comedies fail to be. I can see this film appealing to both directionless millennials trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives and middle-aged adults looking back nostalgically on the irresponsible fun that a lack of direction afforded them. It’s the kind of film that approaches you with a textbook in one hand and a six pack of Coronas in the other, and damn it if I don’t choose the option that means I won’t remember anything the next morning.