On its face, a movie about a bunch of college baseball players in 1980 might not be in the wheelhouse of much of your average 2016 cinema-going audience. Add to it an honestly somewhat lackluster trailer and a slow rollout into theaters, and you can understand why Everybody Wants Some!! isn’t exactly tearing up the box office charts Zootopia style. But there’s a certain subsection of film fans who would see it regardless of the quality of its trailers or the interest in its superficial plot mechanics simply for two words involved in its creation: Richard Linklater. The long beloved director of the likes of Boyhood and School of Rock and the Before trilogy may not be at the top of the heap when it comes to big time talents in the industry (though Boyhood surely won the man some plaudits prior to narrowly losing out in Oscar season to Birdman), but he has been quietly making consistently excellent films for 25 years, never failing to entertain. So sure, a movie about some baseball playing bros wreaking havoc on a college campus may not scream “Must see!,” but when that movie has Linklater behind it and is angled as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, well, the worst trailer in the world couldn’t keep us away.
Some have described Everybody Wants Some!! as Dazed and Confused in the 80’s, which is technically true but a bit of a misleading statement. Set in late summer 1980, It follows three days in the life of Jake (Blake Jenner), an incoming freshman pitcher at a college in Texas, as he acclimates himself to his new house, his new roommates, and his first experiences living unsupervised as something vaguely resembling an adult. The next 72 hours unfolds in a whirlwind of team bonding through drinking at the house, drinking at various themed bars, some sex, some light hazing, and, occasionally, even playing baseball. Jake meets a girl, Beverly (Zoey Deutsch), and generally has a good time adjusting to college life.
Everybody Wants Some!! takes place in 1980, but the aesthetics, the color palette, the disco bars, the music and the moustaches all scream late 70’s. As Jake drives to campus in the opening scene, The Knack’s “My Sharona” blasting from his tape deck, hair blowing in the wind, not a care in the world, the scene is set flawlessly. Nothing even remotely resembles stakes in the film’s breezy 110 minutes, a breath of fresh air with the cinema landscape increasingly dominated by dystopian science fiction and Zack Snyder films. All Linklater asks of you is to sit back and enjoy, even if the enjoyment is tempered in the first act by the off-putting boorishness of the senior members of the team and their zealous shielding of their spot in the starting lineup. Some manage to handle this better than others, with Glen Powell’s Finnegan nearly resembling something like a role model (if Wooderson could ever be considered a role model), and the preternaturally laid back Willoughby (Wyatt Russell, one of the more recognizable faces from his turn in 22 Jump Street in a cast of mostly unknowns) holding philosophical discussions while smoking weed and listening to Pink Floyd.
Some of them are decidedly less on board with the new blood, like big time slugger McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin, the intersection of Oscar Isaac and Billy Crudup), who lords his prowess over all until a girl looks the other way or Jake shows him who’s boss on the ping pong table, or the self-proclaimed “Raw Dog” (Juston Street), a screwloose with an extreme inferiority complex and the sort of manic, explosive personality that seems to presuppose a pretty serious and committed cocaine dependency. The ensemble is as deliriously charming as it is large (Powell and Street are highlights), with Linklater refusing to try too hard to establish their characters or motivations. Everything simply unfolds naturally by watching them react to the situations they find themselves in. Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t try hard to tell the audience who its characters are because it doesn’t need to. And the way the tone shifts from bromance to romance when Jake is with Beverly is inspired. Linklater’s true mastery as a director comes from his preternatural ability to know exactly what his films need to succeed without over or underdoing it, whether it’s a silly comedy, a family film or a tender romance.
Everybody Wants Some!! is Linklater’s first pure comedy in over ten years, dating back to his Bad News Bears remake in 2005. And despite a decade of challenging material like the reality and fiction blending Bernie, the third installment of the Before series, Before Midnight, and the twelve-year odyssey Boyhood, it’s good to know that Linklater hasn’t forgotten how to have fun. With its throwback setting and aesthetic, cast full of unknowns and nonexistent stakes, this is a film destined to come and go, barely making a dent on the film landscape. But to ignore it would be an egregious error. Few movies are released that are as polished and unabashedly fun and watchable as Everybody Wants Some!!. But with Richard Linklater, a film this outstanding, this perfectly put together and eminently watchable, is simply par for the course.