Richard Linklater's status as the master of highbrow hangout comedies is confirmed in Everybody Wants Some!!, his spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused. Shifting the adolescent shenanigans from the '70s to the '80s, this new film retains the writer-director's signature air of casual profundity.
That may seem hard to believe at first. The early scenes are almost exclusively focused on a group of college baseball players' noble quest to get drunk and/or laid during the weekend before classes start at the fictional Southeast Texas University. Chief among them is Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher who shows up to the team's off-campus house with hopes of good times both on the field and off. As ever with Linklater, that setup gives little sense of the loose narrative's creeping emotional resonance. No one imbues this kind of material with so much depth so subtly; the Before Sunrise and Boyhood director always gives the impression of effortlessness.
The relaxed tone shifts halfway through with, of all things, a philosophical bong-ripping session. Jake and three of his teammates ruminate on everything from sharks and baseball to music, including some shade thrown Van Halen's way. Leave it to Linklater to name his movie after a band's song and then have one of his stoned characters denounce them as a product of corporate America. The more "whoa, dude" their musings get, the more they verge on actual truth.
College is a tabula rasa for these incoming freshmen. After three consecutive nights at three different clubs — disco, country, and punk — Jake starts to wonder who he really is. How else do college kids define themselves if not through their taste in clothes and music? (Not coincidentally, Everybody Wants Some!! has a soundtrack just begging for a limited-edition vinyl release.) He and his teammates are quick to adapt to any new situation, which makes for a lot of fun nights but also some nascent existential confusion.
This isn't Jake's first foray into existential thought, it turns out, as he got into STU on the strength of an essay relating the myth of Sisyphus to baseball. We don't learn this until late in the game, by which time first impressions have hardened and our conception of him would appear to be fixed. But then it isn't. Like the film as a whole, this Whitman-quoting ballplayer contains multitudes. He's just too modest to show it off most of the time.
It's telling and intentional that a movie about living in the moment is set 35 years ago — wisdom comes with time, and if these kids were already aware of how meaningful these experiences are they wouldn't be having nearly as much fun. There's a tension to that, as well as a melancholy that Linklater doesn't shy away from. It's eventually revealed, for instance, that a player on the team who's just transferred from another school is an imposter, a 30-year-old who refuses to graduate into adulthood. That makes him a sort of descendant to Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, that early Matthew McConaughey creation immortalized by his grand declaration about high school girls: "I get older, they stay the same age."
There's something inherently sad about both characters, but Linklater doesn't linger on either of them — in part because he doesn't want to harsh our mellow, but also because he doesn't need to in order for us to realize the score. Such moments are peppered throughout Everybody Wants Some!!, and by its end you'll realize that it was never all fun and games in the first place.
Not that it isn't a good time. Linklater may be looking at all this through rose-tinted lenses, but he's not blind to the fact that much of it is quite literally on the level of freshman-year philosophy. It's just that, perhaps more than any other working filmmaker, he's so patient with his characters, so willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, that it's difficult not to feel the same way about them that he does. The object of Jake's affection notes at one point that any experience is as meaningful as you make it, which may as well be this film's thesis statement — and a point it proves repeatedly.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Directed by Richard Linklater
Opens Friday, Lagoon Cinema