The marketing campaign for Richard Linklater’s latest film, Everybody Wants Some!!, clearly knows what it is doing. Right on the poster in ’80s throwback font the screed proclaims the film is the “spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused” over a group photo of the principle actors falling on top of one another in Animal House fashion.
However, what that printed pitch does not tell you is that in addition to the expected drug-use allusions and frat-boy antics, the film is also an insightful sports-themed film that explores both team dynamics and college athletics without any other players vehemently facing off against the home team.
That’s pretty smart and a testament to Linklater’s ability to marry what audiences loved about his look at ’70s high school stereotypes in 1993’s Dazed and Confused and his 2005 remake of Bad News Bears. The result is a two-hour trip back in time that isn’t really about much of anything but will entertain those willing to step up to the plate.
Where D&C is about the last days of high school, EWS!! is set in the first days before college starts. There is literally a baseball-team worth of characters to meet in the initial minutes, but the main narrative centers on Jake (Blake Jenner, TV’s Glee) as he arrives for freshman year as the rookie pitcher for a highly touted Texas college team. The players all live in a row of two adjoining houses (supplied by the city to combat dorm overcrowding ala Revenge of the Nerds), and hijinks quickly ensue.
After that first thematic pitch, we meet Jake’s hillbilly lovesick roommate Bueter (Will Britain), as well as other housemates including the intellectual stoner Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), overconfident pre-pro athlete Rawdog (Juston Street), ultra-competitive leader McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), and laid-back proto-feminist mentor Finnegan (Glen Powell). After their nameless coach tells the boys they are neither to have alcohol on the premises nor any co-eds on the second floor of their domicile, the team quickly decides to ignore both directives and swiftly survey the collegiate crowd for invites to a pre-school shindig.
That creates an opportunity to bring artsy dance major Beverly (Zoey Deutch) into the storyline to show how protagonist player Jake is more than just a jock when he explains how he incorporated the Greek myth of Sisyphus into his college application essay and deftly used the story of a man condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill forever to illustrate his love of athletics.
While the fast-paced introduction of the characters initially had me wanting a scorecard to keep them separated (pun intended, as many of the actors had similar early ’80s wardrobe and facial hair), Linklater adequately develops each with enough characterization to subtly differentiate them from one another without stifling them into the usual sports stereotypes.
Where the film works best is how the filmmaker allows a non-sports disciple like myself to better understand how the players realize their place on campus without coming across solely as “dumb jocks.” Some are deluded to think their respective talents will no doubt become a career, but most recognize they can use their abilities to get what they want out of life now and are content to worry about life after the games are over when that time comes.
In terms of this being a sports film, the team only unites for a few practices (which are “voluntary, but that means required, rookies”) where they take batting practice and scrimmage one another, but as the story is grounded in the first few days way before the baseball season starts next year, really the sport is more of a metaphor for the proceedings. As expected, there is the requisite macho measuring contest between veterans and hazing of the new players, but even those scenes are included to serve the story rather than to solely show off fantastic feats of athleticism. For these guys, the game is not their life. Instead, their lives are a much more interesting game.
When a few members of the team expand their horizons to attend a costume party among the theater geeks in Beverly’s world, the foray acts not as much a fish-out-of-water scenario as it allows Linklater’s cast to add more depth to the proceedings. Some characters typically want to flex their seduction muscles and woo impressed coeds, but others see it as an opportunity to be more than just meatheads and strive to be individuals who can add a greater dynamic to the playbook when stepping up to the plate. And some just want to dance, smoke, and get drunk. Such is college.
The early ’80s soundtrack ranging from damaged disco, vintage Van Halen, classic Pink Floyd, confused urban country, and emerging New Wave hits creates a culturally curated mix tape which ground the proceedings in time and place in very much the way the music did for D&C. Even if you don’t know the songs, the music tells the part of the story it needs to and will probably have you considering revisiting a few tunes from your past after the credits roll.
Whether you get much from the story is up to you. Linklater duplicates his previous ensemble efforts well and leaves the audience wondering what happens next without anyone overstaying their welcome, but I came away from their introductions wishing this had been a TV series rather than just a brief glimpse into the team dugout and beyond. It would have to be a cable series due to the nudity and drug use (which is all done to serve the story even when it gets a little gratuitous), but you can’t really convey college in the ’80s without it.
Those wanting a breakout film foil like Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson from Dazed and Confused may find Powell’s Finnegan a pale substitute or a distant cousin of that iconic character, but his performance is none the less quotable. While the rest of the cast is afforded far less screen time, their work is never wasted even when their characters are indeed acting wasted.
If you want to have some fun for two hours away from organized sports, you could do worse than Everybody Wants Some!!. It makes for an entertaining, yet never insulting and even occasionally insightful, look at life very much the same way Dazed and Confused did. In the words of one of the many ball players strutting their stuff on screen, “It’s mostly about seeing how witty they can be.” It’s not quite a home run because of some distraction in terms of focus, but it is a solid triple play. Which, to quote Dazed and Confused, as the movie poster hopes you will remember, is “alright, alright, alright.”
- Everybody Wants Some!!
- 117 minutes, rated R for language, sexual content, drug references and some nudity
- Director: Richard Linklater
- Starring: Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell
- Cinema Scoreboard rating: solid triple play / A- minus