April 24, 2016

"Everybody Wants Some!!" is a Charming Slice-of-Life from Richard Linklater

Everybody Wants Some!!
117 minutes, Rated R.

Written and directed by Richard Linklater.

Featuring: Blake Jenner (Jake), Ryan Guzman (Kenny), Tyler Hoechlin (Glen), Glen Powell (Finn), Wyatt Russell (Willoughby), Quinton Johnson (Dale), Temple Baker (Plummer), Zoey Deutch (Beverly), Tanner Kalina (Brumley), and Will Brittain (Billy Autrey).

Everybody Wants Some!! is the latest film from writer-director Richard Linklater, in some ways a follow-up to his breakthrough film, 1993’s Dazed and Confused. Both movies are set in Texas, Linklater’s home state: Dazed and Confused on the last day of school in 1976, Everybody Wants Some!! in 1980, the weekend before the Fall semester begins at the fictional Southeast Texas University. When the movie opens, we meet Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman baseball player, cruising through the small college town with his windows open and The Knack’s “My Sharona” blaring from his radio. He’s heading to his new home, the house where all his teammates have been situated. Everybody Wants Some!! is the cinematic equivalent of “My Sharona”: it’s fast, catchy and utterly charming, but it goes on a little too long. Maybe it was the hot theater (the air wasn’t running and the theater was nearly full), but about an hour into the film I began feeling restless. Everybody Wants Some!! is joyfully conflict-free, and as such could stand to lose about 20 minutes’ worth of its two hour running time. (Aimless movies are better short.) But it’s a terrific movie on many levels, even though it’s man-centric, arguably to a fault.

Perhaps we’ve had too many movies about male friendship that completely excluded women, and perhaps there have been enough Linklater movies with excellent roles for women, that film critic Amy Nicholson is justified in her outrage by Linklater’s latest film. In her review, Nicholson scolded Linklater for making a movie so myopically focused on the guys that it forgot to have any well-defined female characters (save one, Zoey Deutch’s character “Beverly,” Jake’s love interest). Nicholson sees Everybody Wants Some!! as Linklater’s regression into an 18-year-old boy filmmaker. And she has a point: the movie is amped up on testosterone, and the guys strut around like puffed up roosters trying to win over the demure hens. (Only, the demure hens are mud wrestling in their underwear.)

But I feel torn about this film’s politics, partly because movies, like everything else, need to exist in a "both-and" world rather than an "either-or" one. I'm okay with filmmakers focusing on guys, I just want there to be as many movies about women. And furthermore, Linklater fashions such a vivid and dynamic world for us, it's hard to reject it on these grounds. When Jake arrives, he’s immediately dismissed by two of the senior baseball players who see him as a threat to their own chances at being noticed by potential scouts. His roommate, a country boy named Billy Autrey, is always on the phone talking to his high school sweetheart. “If you want to find Autrey, just follow the chord,” jokes Dale (J. Quenton Johnson), another teammate. The freshmen are essentially on a probationary period, where the older guys talk down to them when they want, and play various dumb pranks on them (like the “Impossible Situp,” which did cause me to role my eyes). But sometimes, the walls come down—usually when they’re out at the Sound Machine (a local disco) or wandering around the town looking for something to do. At other times, their relationships seem defined by mindless competition: We see one of them explode when Jake beats him at ping pong and he hurls the racket in Jake’s direction, while the other guys watch in mock horror, laughing at his outburst. Beneath the goofiness is a layer of genuine masculine aggression that’s tempered by the short memories of innocent young minds.

And when the guys are preening in the mirror, admiring their own muscle-bound frames and asses framed in their tight-fitting clothes, it feels like Linklater has actually tapped into this world in order to lovingly critique it: The guys are no less vain, no less concerned with achieving the right fashion sense, than the women they dismiss as vapid sex objects. Their ignorance is charming too, because it’s so innocent: To some degree, these guys haven’t moved past Tom Sawyer and his buddies playing pirates on the Mississippi. They just have more developed sexual appetites.

We have to look at this movie the way we look at Tom Sawyer: It’s about the nature of male homo-social activity in all its dumb, goofy weirdness, its sweaty heat, its immature, hard-headed, soft-hearted confusion. If Linklater has regressed as a filmmaker, at least he’s giving us a tale well-told, full of terrific performances: Blake Jenner, like the lead in Boyhood is the least charismatic of the bunch, only this time it’s mostly because he’s forced to be, essentially playing the straight man. Jake is a convenient character for Linklater (something Nicholson points out in her review). He’s everything Linklater needs him to be: smart, cute, talented, thoughtful, less of an ape than the rest of the guys. But Jenner’s performance is good: he’s likable, and he doesn’t put on a show like the other guys do.

Everybody Wants Some!! wouldn’t be half as good without its cast. All of them look so familiar, yet almost none of them are famous: Jenner appeared on Glee (he looks a little bit like a young Matt Dillon); J. Quenton Johnson has enough personality for three actors; I kept feeling I’d seen Wyatt Russell before (his character Willoughby is the one who introduces the other guys to grass and hippie ideas about astrology and mind-reading), only to discover he’s the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn; Temple Baker, playing another one of the freshman, might be the younger brother of Chris Pine. Baker plays the likably dumb one: he speaks with the authority of a philosopher yet has no sense. Glen Powell, playing Finn, also talks philosophy, but only to get laid. He smokes a pipe and reads Jack Kerouac (like the annoying guys in my creative writing classes), but he knows how to adapt in order to better his chances of scoring. When he learns one girl prefers quiet men, he clams up, and she jumps him.

Perhaps Amy Nicholson’s scolding is deserved. The women in this movie operate exactly as the men expect them to, but it’s possible to read this too as part of Linklater’s critique. He’s showing us fantasy rather than reality. But I agree: We do need more juicy, well-drawn roles for women. All you need to do is watch All About Eve and see what kind of movie you’ll get with three or four excellent parts for actresses.

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