Release Date: March 30th, 2016 (US limited); May 13th, 2016 (UK)
Starring: Blake Jenner, Glenn Powell, Ryan Guzman, Quinton Johnson, Zoey Deutch
At times Richard Linklater’s latest hit resembles the idyllic college lifestyle you could never imagine. It’s almost too good to be true and yet it is true, to some extent. Everybody Wants Some!! is Linklater’s own recollection of student life in the 1980s, adapted for silver screen consumption and executed with golden-crisp flair and a penchant for non-sappy nostalgia. It brilliantly sweeps you along for the ride, your own student experience rendered almost irrelevant. At least it did for me. I’m not American, I didn’t live in college accommodation, I was never a jock, and yet Linklater’s outing had me laughing at and with those on-screen as if their antics were once my own.
The director has referred to his film as a sort of spiritual sequel to Boyhood given it opens with a young man about to embark upon college (spoiler: in other words, precisely where Boyhood ends). But I don’t think it is that. Whereas Boyhood exhausted storytelling possibilities by effectively emphasising the importance of the journey, often times with a sombre edge, Everybody Wants Some!! shows much more concern for the moment, for the high points and the hilarity of pre-adulthood. This is less about being unlucky in love or life and more about those unforgettably positive, mad experiences of youth. Dazed and Confused would be the more fitting, more obvious sibling.
For one, that film’s feeling of yesteryear is out in force again here, ushered in by retro yellow opening credits. Blake Jenner appears as they fade on and off-screen; he is Jake and he turns up at his new college residence sporting a crate of album vinyls under one arm and a noticeably smaller bag of baseball gear under the other. Upon entering the abode Jake encounters his new housemates: some instigating social order, some filling mattresses with water, some playing mini golf, and one lone cowboy. Student characters can be insufferable — particularly those painted with overly macho, jockish strokes — but under the tutelage of Richard Linklater that isn’t something we ought to worry about.
Sure, these guys seem douchey at first, and sure, they retain a degree of that douchiness throughout the piece, but they’re also oddly charming and bursting with infectious energy. Linklater calms any initial anxieties by having the group glide through the campus neighbourhood in their Cadillac, windows down, heads bobbing, voices loudly embracing the lyrics of The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (the first of many era-aggrandising songs). Their intention is to woo girls; indeed, along with sports chatter, wooing girls is the guys’ primary intention throughout the movie. And suitably — crucially — they fail more often than they succeed.
See, the inspired thing about Everybody Wants Some!! is that it encourages you to engage with the lifestyle and the competitiveness and the nonsense as it simultaneously undercuts the jock stereotype: the characters are idiots just like the rest of us, and equally as crass. But they are also willing to integrate — they party with country music folk, punk rockers, and the theatre club — even if their endgame is ultimately sex and booze. But that doesn’t matter because sex and booze and having a good time is everyone’s endgame. Everyone is complicit, there is a communal acceptance of wild social norms (norms derived from the director’s lived experience).
That singular vision notwithstanding, and despite the group’s manipulation of internal hierarchy, Jake and company are purposefully geared more towards the endearing end of the moral spectrum, as opposed to the end that breeds malice. The newcomers are peasants and the seniors kings, that’s just how it is, and yet the entire team appear to get along royally, the invasive presence of pecking order only rearing in moments of silly buffoonery. Did you know you cannot sit upright when lying down with someone pressing their finger into your chest?
What’s more crucial is this clash of temperaments moulding together to create a cohesive unit strengthened by a baseball-shaped bond. The characters are individually distinctive and too many to recall, but here are a few bright sparks: Finnegan, Jake’s mentor of sorts, played superbly by Glen Powell who is both welcoming in nature and obtuse in personality; Dale, the coolest of the group, portrayed with starry suave by Quinton Johnson; and the cowboy, Will Brittain’s Beuter, whose “alright” might as well be a throwback to Matthew McConaughey. Then there is Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) who owns “almost every single episode” of The Twilight Zone, a real spaced-out dude, and Jay Niles (Juston Street), essentially Saved by the Bell’s Screech drunk on egomania.
Their collective chemistry is anchored by Jenner as Jake, he the most approachable of a surprisingly approachable bunch. We witness this affability via Jake’s budding romance with arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch). Their relationship is sweet, matching the fun-loving tone of the film, and manages to maintain a significant level of intrigue despite being wrought with a predictable throughline. In other words, it’s a testament to both performers. Deutch is especially good given her fairly slight on-screen opportunities, Beverly’s confident demeanour that of someone afforded more time to explore their intricacies (a phone conversation that she steers sizzles with assured aplomb).
The suburban location, the frat-esque bunker, the amusingly dated costume design — these all conjugate together to recreate a nostalgic familiarity for some and to authentically establish the not-so-familiar for others. Moustaches are trimmed and not-quite, t-shirts are tight, trousers tighter. There is a terrific shot framed with playful perfection by cinematographer Shane F. Kelly that depicts a perplexed Jake in the foreground and his teasing housemate Nesbit’s (Austin Amelio) mirrored reflection in the background. Yet the film also bears some hallmarks of today, such as the presence of “Reagan” and “Carter” student stalls on campus, the activist culture fully mobilised.
Linklater, as he has done so often in the past, recreates a culture and camaraderie that many will recognise with such glee and admiration, and all the while he partially subverts that culture, thrusting forth human beings with quirks and hopes rather than muscle-bound, bellowing jock caricatures. This could have easily surrendered to hokey story points and annoying character traits. For a film so potentially difficult to get right Everybody Wants Some!! is so, so easy to watch. A disclaimer: when you do watch, and you should, prepare for the ensuing grin-induced jaw pain (it’ll be worth it).
Images copyright (©): Paramount Pictures