I admire Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some, but I hated the experience of watching it and hope to never see it again.
Well, that was a bit harsh, wasn’t it? People love this movie. BirthMoviesDeath called a “a masterwork” after its SXSW premiere. Why am I the voice of dissent? What could I possibly have against Richard Linklater? The dude’s so lovable. He made a movie about convicted murderer Bernie Tiede, and then let him live above his garage! Who does that kind of thing? Plus, he directed Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy and Boyhood. He’s always reliable for a low-key, meandering character study with a killer soundtrack, Everybody Wants Some certainly fits the bill.
Set at a Texas college in 1980, the movie follows incoming freshman athlete Jake (Blake Jenner) as he moves into an off-campus house with the rest of the university’s baseball players four days prior to the start of the fall semester. That means they have four days to do nothing but party, get laid, party some more, get laid again and generally behave like hyper-competitive dudes. It’s like a Porkies movie where the debauchery is occasionally punctured by Jake or the team’s seasoned veteran and deceptively deep thinker Finnegan (Glen Powell) stopping to offer a quasi-sociological observation about their behavior and hazy long-term future.
In interviews, Linklater has admitted that if he’d gotten around to it sooner Everybody Wants Some would have been a direct sequel to Dazed and Confused. It certainly runs with the same “atmosphere over story” ethos, and continues Linklater’s mission to cinematically tell us, “So, this is what it was like to grow up in Texas at this very specific moment in time,” 1976 for Dazed and Confused, 1980 for Everybody Wants Some.
This means he inevitably injects a large degree of autobiography into his work. Dazed and Confused was loosely inspired by his own fraught high school experience, functioning as his effort to exorcise some lingering demons from his teenage years. Now Everybody Wants Some is his ode to how much fun he had playing baseball at Sam Houston State University in the early 80s.
However, Everybody Wants Some is also Linklater’s attempt to put an exclamation point at the end of the thought he started with Boyhood. That movie was all about the process of growing up, and ended with the boy leaving for college and meeting a girl. Everybody Wants Some is about the weekend right before college starts, and the closet thing it has to a plot is a freshman boy adjusts to his new surroundings and meets a girl (Zoey Deutch, who had me thinking she was Isla Fisher’s clone the entire time).
What I admire about Everybody Wants Some is the way it gradually reveals its true purpose, which is not actually to be Porkies – The College Years but instead an insightful reflection on the transformative transition from high school to college to adulthood.
Of course, not all of the characters are necessarily at the same exact stage in that very specific transition. In addition to Jake and Finnegan, there’s a mixture of younger and older students on the team who are always around but don’t particularly stand out dramatically, usually best remembered as “the one with the biggest muscles,” “the one with the weird mustache,” “the young one who can barely grow a mustache,” “the black one,” etc. Understandably, the story always circles back to Jake, and as Linklater told TheWeek:
“It’s about identity. It’s about what to do with the freedom you’ve been given in life. You’re not really a free agent in this world until you leave your parents’ house, high school, and all that. So developmentally, [college is] a really important time. It’s not put to you that way, but it strikes me as figuring out who you are, and kind of accepting your life as your own.”
This is when these people get to decide who they really are going to be, and the overwhelming number of choices in front of them is perfectly embodied in the rotating nature of the clubs and parties they attend:
On the first night, they hit up a disco club where they can party (and score easy chicks) like Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights.
The next night they try out a honky tonk bar, openly admitting their disdain for the Urban Cowboy craze of the moment before quickly changing into more cowboy-like attire and successfully impressing the local ladies even as they dance to songs they hate.
Then the next night they end up at a punk rock show, where some prove better at fitting in than others.
Finally, they crash a drama club party, and awkwardly mingle with supremely open-minded, artistic girls who probably have no idea what it means when the guys bring up baseball and say things like “He’s so good he’s like a vaccuum cleaner at third base.”
It’s sort of a shame that Linklater doesn’t completely trust the audience to pick up on what he’s doing. Instead, he has Jake and Finnegan spell it all out for us from the sidelines of the punk rock show, with Jake questioning the validity of constantly changing who they are just to impress girls and Finnegan arguing they are simply adapting to their surroundings and broadening their horizons.
That momentary bit of slightly heavy-handed scripting isn’t why I hated watching this movie, though. Far from it, really. No, that can be summed up in this fear Linklater expressed to ConsequenceOfSound when discussing a note he received from the studio to cut down an early scene featuring the guys driving around town and singing along to Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”
“The note was like, ‘You could cut that in half”. I was like, ‘No, you don’t get it. If you don’t like that, you’re not going to like this.’ If you don’t like hanging out with these guys, you might hate this movie.”
There’s the rub: I absolutely did not like hanging out with these guys. I did not care if wide-eyed Jake ever hooked up with or, far more scandalously, formed an actual emotional connection with the “auburn-haired girl” (he finally learns her name maybe an hour and twenty minutes into this two hour movie). I wasn’t particularly moved by the plight of a bunch of big fish from small ponds either floundering in self-delusion (i.e., assuming they’ll be drafted by a MLB team even though they’re clearly not good enough) or choosing to embrace whatever life throws at them. That’s an interesting central dilemma affecting every single character, but only two of them seem to be aware of it, and even then they barely acknowledge it.
I spent the first half of the movie fantasizing about a slasher film version of Everybody Wants Some where these total bromeisters were being offed one-by-one by an unseen killer (Jake seemed like the obvious the “final girl” candidate since he’s clearly the most sensitive of the group). I kept hoping Linklater had more to show us than a bunch of dudes using their limited celebrity to bang nameless, voiceless and often disembodied college girls, or spending their down time literally hitting each others knuckles and hazing the new guys, particularly the dimwitted country bumpkin.
By the time the film revealed its true purpose and started slowly peeling back the layers, it was too late. I wanted nothing more than to be freed from these characters. I was reminded of Mark Kermode’s rant about The Wolf of Wall Street:
Can you be dramatically interested in a character that you just hate? I think this is where the film falls down. If there isn’t a way into the character you just wonder, “Why am I spending so much time in their company?” when I actually don’t care what happens to them. As soon as you stop caring, or as soon as you start not caring because there’s no point at which you think “I actually care what happens to you” the film itself starts to become something of an ordeal.
I recognize that to, in any way, equate the Everybody Wants Some guys to Jordan Belfort (the detestable real-life figure DiCaprio plays in Wolf) is a categorically unfair and false comparison. These guys are pretty much just behaving like frat guys, with their fraternity being the baseball team; Belfort lived up to every possible stereotype of 80s amorality and excess. I most definitely wouldn’t say I hated these guys; I just grew tired of being around them. By the halfway point of Wolf of Wall Street, I was numb to everything and wanted the film to end, and that’s exactly how I felt about Everybody Wants Some.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Everybody loves Everybody Wants Some. It’s so nostalgic, and the period music is so much fun. Plus, come on, it’s just guys being guys. Sure, they endlessly bust each other’s balls, but they’re also toughening each other up in the process. Their leader does occasionally reveal a nuanced view of their gendered and tribal behavior. It’s all remarkably authentic, as in this is exactly how you’d imagine these people behaving at that particular moment in history. But, wow, I absolutely couldn’t wait for it to be over.
88% – “Nostalgic in the best sense, Everybody Wants Some!! finds Richard Linklater ambling through the past with a talented cast, a sweetly meandering story, and a killer classic rock soundtrack.”