SXSW Film Festival
After completing the arduous shoot of “Apocalypse Now,” director Francis Ford Coppola famously remarked, “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.” Writer and director Richard Linklater, brilliant though he is, seems to lack Coppola’s penchant for bombast or self-promotion. So, if I might, I would like to say what I doubt Linklater ever would about his latest film, “Everybody Wants Some!!”
“Everybody Wants Some!!” is not a film about college. It is college.
For the roughly two hour runtime of Linklater’s so-called “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed and Confused,” I did not merely watch a representation of college-aged males running amuck. I was transported back to my own college days – never mind that the film takes place in 1980, when my dad first enrolled. The cars, the hair, the music and the outfits might have shifted in the four decades between then and now, but the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
I have praised many a college movie, from Noah Baumbach’s sardonic “Kicking and Screaming” to Lord & Miller’s farcical “22 Jump Street” and even the animated with Pixar’s “Monsters University.” Those movies can hardly hold a candle to “Everybody Wants Some!!” I recognized every single character in the film as having some analogous counterpart in my own life. This may have a little something to do with the fact that Linklater is, like myself, a Houston native and very familiar with that distinctly Texan strain of the “bro.”
I suspect, however, that my reaction comes less from geography and more from ethnography. The film is not rooted in place or time, though each definitely leaves a stamp. Rather, it is about the full college experience and all it entails. “Everybody Wants Some!!” celebrates that very unique freedom of the period between being someone’s kid and being someone’s parent. It’s the rare occurrence where liberty comes with hardly any repercussions or responsibilities. The now matters more than the future, and everyone collectively agrees to enjoy it.
Critically, Linklater sets the film in the most carefree time in the collegiate experience: the brief window leading up to the start of classes. What little duty one owes to scholastic obligations can wait, and perhaps that one party or that one drink can stave off the inevitable. The prelude to the year might be lacking in duties, though it is full of possibility.
The film’s protagonist Jake (Blake Jenner), freshly arrived to Southern Texas University, provides the perfect vessel through which to explore all the many options available. While he and the baseball team which he joins are hardly progressive – their sweeping through parking lots to hit on girls recalls modern Tinder prowling – they display an uncommon openness to seize whatever opportunity comes their way. Disco, punk or country, they dance to it all. Burnouts, party girls and drama geeks all are welcome to join their walking party.
Beyond just taking all the exciting newness of college in, “Everybody Wants Some!!” offers plenty of insight from its more seasoned students. Seniors like Glen Powell’s Finnegan, arguably the film’s standout character, maneuvers with a confident swagger that comes from four years of perfecting his smooth talk. Yet he also carries with him a chip on his shoulder that comes from the knowledge that this idyllic phase will soon come to a close. He can hang on for dear life (one character who will go unnamed does), though he realizes a need to impart his zen-like wisdom to the freshman as much as he needs to tease them.
The baseball team makes for somewhat of an anomaly in terms of on-screen depictions for a big group of young men. Films usually portray such posses as either testosterone-pumping caricatures or idealized softies. Neither strikes me as particularly accurate; most jocks fall in between. Giving into neither the stereotype nor some imagined ideal for men, Linklater simply writes guys as they are. A baseball player himself in college, he understands the camaraderie, competitiveness and tomfoolery that naturally flows from putting a group like that in close quarters. But, on the other hand, he also possesses the critical faculties to step back and see them without rose-tinted glasses or excessive nostalgia.
Linklater’s easygoing but deeply serious disposition makes his writing and directing style essentially akin to the rack focus. He is fun-loving but thoughtful, hedonistic yet contemplative, relatively simple in presentation but extremely rich in substance. In many ways, Linklater is the embodiment of a great collegiate hope: that one can explore various identities and sensibilities freely and, rather than choose one, assimilate them all into one’s sense of self. A- /