When director Richard Linklater said that his new film, Everybody Wants Some!!, was a “spiritual sequel” to 1993’s Dazed and Confused, a few eyebrows may have raised. Some eyes may have rolled.
“Spiritual sequel” almost seems like a new brand phrase in movies, especially when it comes from the likes of J.J. Abrams recently trying to frame 10 Cloverfield Lane in the same universe as 2008’s Cloverfield. The more cynical among us might think such a term is meant to appeal to — and perhaps exploit — nostalgia, attempting to tap into whimisical feelings and memories many of us have for the movies, TV and music that we grew up with 20 to 30 years ago. In Abrams’ case, he almost certainly is referring to a brand, an umbrella under which the quirky sci-fi/horror, Twilight Zone-esque films he’s produced can fit.
But Linklater is a lot less Hollywood, much more laid-back, and a filmmaker who can’t be pinned down or defined by his work. He most certainly doesn’t have a brand, unless that brand is being arguably the most interesting American director working today. Take a look at Linklater’s filmography at IMDB and see if you can detect any sort of pattern or preference. That’s as diverse a body of work as any compiled by a modern filmmaker.
With Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater again shows that he’s not following any sort of typical path for a director. Following up what was arguably his masterpiece in 2014’s Boyhood — which earned Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay nominations, as well as acting nods for Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who won Best Supporting Actress — Linklater might have been expected to make another “big” movie with a story that may have been small in scope, but large in ambition. But if he’d tried something similar to making a movie that filmed its actors over the course of 12 years, that would have made Boyhood look like a gimmick.
Instead, Linklater went smaller with his next film, following a college baseball player about to begin his freshman year at the fictional Southeast Texas University. The story takes place during the four days before classes begin in the year 1980, when the next stage of his life will presumably get underway. And with that, you get an idea of how this could indeed be a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. That movie showed the end of high school, while this one anticipates the beginning of college.
Jake (Blake Jenner, Glee) is a pitcher joining up with a team that’s become a national college baseball power. Whether or not STU plays in Division I or advanced to the College World Series aren’t really pertinent to the story. We just get a vague allusion to losing in the playoffs.
What is important is the camaraderie among the 16 guys on the baseball team that occupy two houses just off campus. The baseball program is the big deal, with both the football and basketball teams struggling. In addition to the incoming freshman, the squad also includes two transfer pitchers whom the coach says will help their ascendance to national success. The incumbent upperclassmen, led by All-American Glen McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin, Teen Wolf), view the newcomers suspiciously, but more as an initiation. It’s made clear that the baseball team is successful and higher aspirations are being pursued. Meanwhile, you’d better be really good if you want to earn respect and a spot on the team.
But Everybody Wants Some!! is hardly a sports movie. Well, maybe it becomes a sports movie in the third act, when “voluntary” practice begins and we see the cast in action on the diamond. Several of the actors played baseball at some level, so they look believable on the field which is always the minimum bar that a sports movie — or a film taking place around sports — should reach. There are no bad wind-ups, laboring throws or stiff, unnatural swings here. This looks like a believable baseball team. And remember, it’s supposed to be one of the best in the nation, so that needs to be conveyed at least a little bit on screen.
What is this movie about? That may be the wrong question to ask. There really isn’t that much of a story here, other than following Jake during the four days before classes begin, watching him getting to know his teammates, and pursuing Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a theater major who’s caught his eye and is seemingly intrigued by him because he’s the quiet guy among all the loud, brash jocks cruising around campus to hit on women and invite them to their house party.
Along the way, the movie follows Jake and the guys on their quest to meet as many women as possible before school and baseball practices begin, going to disco bars, country bars and costume parties thrown by theater majors. And of course, the baseball team throws its own raging kegger at their house. Just don’t tell Coach about the beer and women. The 1980s clothes and hairstyles provide enough entertainment, as does the outstanding soundtrack packed full of the best music from the era. This is the movie Cameron Crowe wishes he could make.
If there’s a through-line in Linklater’s films, it’s that he creates characters that you want to watch, want to hear talk, and want to see react to whatever situation the story puts them in. It’s watching Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on a train to Vienna, or walking the streets of Paris. It’s Arquette feeling her heart break as her son leaves for college, wondering if she’s done all she can as a mother. Maybe it’s even three high school friends meeting in a hotel room, talking about a dark incident which happened in their past. (Linklater didn’t write that one, though.) It’s just fun to watch the different, quirky personalities — jocks, philosophers, potheads, wide-eyed does — sharing a house and baseball team, and interacting over the course of four days. And if any of these people are actually unlikable people (and a few certainly toe that line), at least they’re funny, so the experience doesn’t become awkward or painful.
What was it like to go to college for the first time, to be on your own and meet a bunch of new people? It’s scary and thrilling at the same time. But it’s also reassuring to know that you’re realizing who you really are as a person, what’s important to you, what you’ve left behind. Oh, and you probably also realize that you don’t know a damn thing. That’s maybe a bit deeper than Everybody Wants Some!! really goes, but I’d be surprised if you don’t think about such things while you’re watching this movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll bob your head or tap your foot to the music, and maybe you’ll reminisce. It’s just fun, maybe the most fun two hours you’ll spend in a theater so far this year.