Everybody Wants Some!! is billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, and Richard Linklater wastes no time inviting comparisons to his classic hangout movie. Each film opens with a sweet car cruising along as an era-establishing rock song blares on the soundtrack, and there are several beats that recall the earlier work. There are no direct references or crossovers, however, and Everybody Wants Some!! is its own brand of smart, fun sociological observation.
As the summer of 1980 winds down, Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher for a Texas college, arrives at the off-campus house where he’ll be living with his new teammates. As soon as he enters, he’s accosted by elder players Finnegan (Glen Powell) and McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), who yell at him to turn off the garden hose before the waterbed they’re filling on the second floor falls through the ceiling.
That’s the level of conflict that’s peppered throughout a delightfully imprecise plot. Jake and fellow freshmen clash with veteran players, razzing each other and being hyper-competitive in establishing their place in the group of dudes they’ll be hanging with. The seniors don’t want their positions on the team threatened, and the freshmen have to be wary of the next prank or hazing ritual.
Acclimatizing to this environment isn’t easy – for the players or us. While the opening scenes contain some playful Linklater banter, there’s also some discomforting alpha male behavior. From pointed barbs to aggressive pursuits of women, there’s a lot of jerkiness on display. However, in first embracing the bunk trappings of a wild college sex comedy, Linklater is then able to wonderfully subvert them, taking time to reveal the personalities underneath the dopey facades.
Powell is a standout as Finnegan, the affable smooth-talker who will make you smile as he ribs you. As is Wyatt Russell as Willoughby, a pot-smoking philosopher. Their polar opposite is Niles (Juston Street), a high-strung transfer pitcher all about proving his dominance on the field. Placed with these jokesters he, predictably and hilariously, fails.
The bonding of the teammates occurs during a string of parties that’s like a journey through the early ‘80s culture that’s being thrust upon them. There’s a house party, a disco, a country-western bar, and a punk rock club, the latter spurred by a chance run-in with Jake’s old high school buddy who’s fully embraced the punk lifestyle. Through the various excursions there are references to “wardrobe changes” and even “questioning who we are,” but the coming of age sentiment is kept subtle. It’s not necessarily about becoming someone or something specific, it’s about adapting.
The early days of college that seem to run together are crucial in laying the groundwork for your collegiate experience. Who you get to know, where you go, and what you do matters, even if it’s not apparent right away. We know that Niles and Billy (Will Brittain), who bails to be with a clingy girlfriend, are setting themselves up as outcasts. There might be something to the title of the movie being taken from a song by Van Halen – a band mentioned only to be made fun of. It doesn’t define the experience, but contributes to it in a memorable way.
The closest Linklater comes to story resolution is the budding relationship of Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a freshman drama major. They have an early, subdued meet-cute and further bond at a party for theater kids. There’s some common ground with each of the standout high-schoolers now being on the bottom rung of the collegiate ladder, but this is far from a belabored romance. Their few extended conversations are simple and sweet without being trite, and the movie certainly doesn’t hinge on whether or not they’ll wind up together. I wouldn’t bet on it.
With remarkable recent projects that have relied heavily on the passage of time to color their narratives – the 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood and the latest chapter of the Before series – Linklater proves once again that he’s just as adept at capturing fleeting, yet vital, moments. As usual, he nails the period look and feel with the wardrobe and impeccable music selections.
Occasionally, a countdown clock appears on-screen – sometimes even down to the second – reminding us of how much time is left before classes start, as if this will be some sort of watershed moment. Of course it’s not a be-all and end-all, but then again, when you walk into your first lecture and see your new buddy, maybe it means everything. For that one second, anyway.