Richard Linklater is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, and despite my opinion that Boyhood, despite being a very good film, is not deserving of its universal praise, I think Linklater is a genius, having created so many iconic films, such as the crowd-pleasing School of Rock, and one of the greatest film trilogies of all time (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight) and of course the deeply charming Bernie, amongst many other films. However, the Linklater I love the most is the one that made Dazed and Confused over twenty years ago. The nihilistic film that showed both the nature of the 1970s, and what the life of a high school student is like. It was an absolute masterpiece, and everything about it was just amazing, from beginning to end. Now, two decades later, Linklater has finally returned to the roots of that film, and transferring the action from the 1970s to the 1980s, and moving the setting from high school to college, it is a great spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, and I may be crucified for saying this, Linklater has made a much better film than Boyhood here. That film is the extraordinary Everybody Wants Some!! (these exclamation points are a part of the film’s title, but they do also express my absolute excitement around this film)
At the beginning of the film, we encounter Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), a college freshman on his way to university in Texas. He is a baseball player there on a scholarship, and discovers that he will be staying in a house with his teammates, all of which are crude and vulgar college students that enjoy showing off their masculinity and bravado as much as they love baseball – and they really love baseball. The film is set roughly over one weekend, and explores the natural progression Jake goes through to become a part of the group, and shows the ups and downs that come with college. Not only that, it also displays a considerable nostalgic feel for showing how the 1980s were a completely different time, and through the music and fashion, and general attitudes, displays a slice of a bygone era that many people feel nostalgic for, and many more people wish they were given the chance to be a part of. There is little doubt that the 1980s was an era completely different to anything before and after, and Linklater shows the decade (or at least the beginning with it) with great fondness and great sensitivity, but also never shows his own rose-tinted vision of the era by making it out to be the decade that spawned an elitist generation – because of this, it certainly achieves the purpose of allowing those that lived through the 1980s to fondly remember the past, but also not to alienate younger generations, allows us to see a side of life that we were sadly never lucky enough to experience.
What I like the most about Linklater is how he uses the idea of a story very loosely – this is not some Terrence Malick stream-of-consciousness, absolutely plot-free film. However, instead of defining this film with a traditional narrative structure, it is something far more realistic – it shows the natural progression of life. Life is full of events, but these events are few and far between, and we have to admit that cinema has a preoccupation with showing the side of life that is exciting and eventful – and Linklater, throughout many of his films, rather concentrates on the minutiae of life, the small but meaningful moments that we don’t always remember as defining moments in our life, but rather become fond memories. Everybody Wants Some!! shows a different side of what we are used to seeing in these kinds of films – and set over a short period of time, we are able to see these characters grow in a very limited framework.
These characters do not have any motivation other than that of instant gratification, and these characters never really achieve anything major, which may make this movie sound unexciting, but I swear it is absolutely riveting – there is a progression of story, but it is far more natural and true to life than one would expect, and when we think we are going to see some huge event that is purely cinematic, Linklater reminds us that he is showing us a slice of real life, rather than indulging in a fantastical Hollywood production. The fact that Everybody Wants Some!! feels like we are spectators on a short period of an ordinary person’s life is actually very refreshing, and other than some brief context provided during the film, we are only in the lives of these characters for the weekend that this films covers – we don’t know their pasts, and we don’t know their futures – and that is perfect, because giving all of these characters origins would make this film far more bloated and meaningless.
There is not a single performance in this film that isn’t absolutely pitch-perfect – and each and every actor is given an interesting character, and it is clear they all embodied their characters and created personalities that were far from the Hollywood stereotypes we are used to. Blake Jenner is a great lead – and I have to say that seeing someone from Glee succeeding is great – no one should be bound by the shackles of only being remembered for that show. Jenner was one of the few truly talented and naturally charismatic performers on that show, and to see him get as far away from the lower standards of the show (especially in later years) and starring in a great film lie this allows his career to move towards being more promising. He does a great job of portraying Jake as a very likable character, but is also filled with flaws and insecurities – Jake is a character that is not likable because he is just a nice guy – he is likable because he is a real character, with real emotions and to see the experience of going to college. Jake isn’t a milquetoast who borders on saintly, which is also very refreshing. Many mainstream films paint these kinds of characters as overly friendly, earnest “nice guys” without a single nasty bone in their body – and Jenner’s performance shows a character that is far more realistic than many we see in these kinds of films.
However, Jenner (despite being the lead) is not the only star of this film – the cast as a whole is utterly perfect. I honestly can’t fault any of the actors, and each of them brings such a unique perspective to their characters and add so much to the film, it is difficult to pick out one in particular that stands out, because they all do, and Linklater gives each character the attention they deserve, and the space for the actors to develop the characters wonderfully. Wyatt Russell is hilarious as the philosophical stoner Willoughby, and Tanner Baker is great as the less-than-smart Plummer. Will Brittain gives a flawless Matthew McConaughey impression as Billy, who the team has stereotyped as a country bumpkin because of his Southern accent and gentle personality. Tyler Hoechlin is extremely likable as Glen McReynolds, the friendly but mischievous older teammate. The best supporting performances come from two actors in particular – Ryan Guzman is given some of the best moments as the misogynistic and somewhat evilly crude Kenny Roper, and Glen Powell continues to show that he is a brilliant talent with incredible comedic timing through his performance as Finnegan. The cast is just pitch-perfect, and Linklater and the actors just work in perfect harmony to create memorable characters. Just a tip – stay right up until the end of the credits – the cast gives an extra special surprise to those dedicated souls that stay right up until the end.
The real star of this film is the music. The music of Everybody Wants Some!! is a character all on its own, and much like the characters, the music has a natural progression. The best part of period films is that many directors choose to frame these films with the best of the music of that decade – but Linklater takes it a step further by displaying the 1980s and its adherents as a variety of cultures and sub-cultures, and everything from disco to hip-hop to punk to country music is shown in this film, and not only does Linklater show the extent and variety of tastes in music during this era, he also shows off his superb taste himself, by choosing songs that aren’t as obvious as we’d thought, but brilliantly indicative of the very best in music from this era. This film is mostly memorable because of the brilliant musical moments, from the hilarious rendition of “Rapper’s Delight” to the thrashingly fun punk concert, to the hypnotizing disco scenes and of course “Cotton-Eye Joe”. The film may be marketed as a “sports film” – but don’t let that prevent you from seeing it – the theme of baseball is only a framing plot point, and other than a strangely wonderful practice scene towards the end, this film isn’t centered around sport, so even the most cynical of viewers (myself included) can rest assured that this film does not allow its theme of baseball drive it (even though it is still wonderful) .
Everybody Wants Some!! is such a great film – hilariously and extraordinarily moving, as I said before, it is the rare period piece that both appeals to the older generation and yet doesn’t alienate younger generations. It is a great spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, one of the best independent films ever made. I don’t hate Boyhood, but it is clear that Richard Linklater is best suited for these more humble and simple projects, as opposed to Boyhood, which is more of an experiment (but still a great film and a notable achievement). I can not recommend this film enough – it is just absolutely mesmerizing, and is just wonderfully made. This film is worth it for the performances, the amazing soundtrack and the easy-going, fun story that will put a smile on your face. I can not implore you to see this film enough – and I honestly can’t wait to see it again.