Styled as a spiritual successor to Linklater’s 1993 ode to the dying days of high school Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! concentrates on another transitional period in many peoples’ lives – the move to college/university when everything seems possible but you wonder if you’ll be able to make the most of all the glittering possibilities lying before you.
It’s an understandable concern, and one many of the characters in the film comment on at one point or another as each of them wrestle in ways big and small with how they will handle their first steps to adulthood.
Set in two off-campus houses at an unnamed college which house the institution’s successful baseball team – all the men featured in the film, from freshmen to seniors are on scholarships and represent the best of the best from the high schools they’ve been drawn from – Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t initially present itself as a thinking person’s film.
In keeping with young men celebrating their first taste of freedom from parental oversight, there is an obsessive concentration on getting drunk, getting laid, sports and getting high, not always in that order.
So far, so typical of the average college student’s experience, many of whom set out to fit their studies around their partying and not the other way around.
Boundaries are written roughshod over with gleeful alacrity, there’s a great deal of machismo and posturing and asserting of hierarchy – the seniors naturally rule the roost and pitchers for some reason sit the lowest on the baseball team totem pole – but for all that, there’s something inherently likeable about this group of guys, all of whom are doing their best to appear like they have it all together when the reality often falls short of that.
That likability can be slated home to Linklater’s willingness to flesh out the characters to such a degree that we come to appreciate that there is more to many of the guys than meets the eye.
That’s not the case with everyone of course since in a film that runs for a shade under two hours, and features four major party sequences, there’s only so much characterisation you can do.
But Linklater’s nuanced, well-paced script, impressive given the subject matter, ensures that we’re watching reasonably fully-formed people who are far more than the sum of their often frat boy actions.
The chief protagonist is Jake (Blake Jenner), who as one of four freshmen joining an established team and living structure, a tough ask for anyone to tackle, becomes the prism through which we learn about everyone else on the team.
While he plays his part of team member and does his best to fit in with the group – he quickly establishes firm friendships with dumb jock Plummer (Temple Baker), sensitive, smooth-talking Romeo, Finnegan (Glenn Powell) and Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) – going along with the relatively innocuous hazing (which involves plenty of duct tape and ball throwing, he is a far more thoughtful beast than many of his teammates such as comically volatile Jay Niles (Juston Street) or Nesbit (Austin Amelio).
While he goes along with the parties, which move between a disco club, a country music venue and a punk concert and a very art party thrown by the theatre crowd, and the drinking, smooth talking and hooking up inherent in a debauched culture caught between the ’70s and ’80s, he is at heart the kind of guy who wants to meet someone special and stick with her.
That person turns out to be arts major Beverly (Zoey Deutch) who he meets indirectly on his first day on campus before wooing her in the sort of way that would not occur to many of his teammates.
He’s oddly positioned then between a testosterone-fueled culture that preaches teamwork but runs on the power of competition and jockeying for a sports career post-college, and an appreciation that there is more to life than the sports which consumes the baseball team, by virtue of shared passion and more importantly, its guarantee of a life freed from the humdrum of office life.
Where Everybody Wants Some!! excels is taking this transitional point in these men’s lives – the film occupies the three days leading up to the start of class when everybody is jockeying for position and a sense of place – and imbuing it, without heavy handed philosophising, with some meaning and depth.
Granted no one has extended conversations about life, the universe and everything, and they are not the type of people to dwell on the vicissitudes of uncertainty and promise of life, but through scattered comments and two key scenes involving Finn, Jake, Plummer and Dale, and then later Jake and Beverly we come to appreciate that everyone feels overwhelmed to one degree or another, and that while they are excited by bounding possibility, they are also intimidated by the prospect of getting it horribly wrong.
No one says that out loud of course – you don’t want to be seen as a wuss or the one who breaks the magic spells of bravado and bombastic self-confidence – but it’s there in ways big and small, ensuring that through the haze of weed and the blur of endless drinking, that there is substance and depth to these people.
What keeps you watching ultimately is the fact that everyone in the film, but particularly the four key friends – Jake, Dale, Plummer and Finn – are inherently real, earthy human beings.
Yes, their lives are wild, somewhat immature and ill-judged at times but that’s the nature of the beast of youth, and all of them, to some extent or another, are aware of what lies ahead, and how little time they have to prepare for it.
Everybody Wants Some!! speaks to that weird tension in your late teens and early twenties between optimism and uncertainty, the thrill of living now versus preparing for the future, and the need we all have to make connections that mean something and make us part of a greater whole.
It’s lighthearted and fun much of the time but the serious subtext is always there, giving Linklater’s latest film an alluring mix of the intoxicating fun and mindlessness of the here-and-now and the gravity of what lies ahead, which when you think about it sums up the college years well nigh perfectly.