Friday, April 1, 2016

Everybody Wants Some!!

A hangout movie largely devoid of major conflict, Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! is an easygoing, carefree, and hilarious exploration of youth and philosophy viewed through the prism of an east Texas college baseball team in 1980. It's alternately raucous, touching, sweet, and silly, but it's almost always hilarious. This is one of my favorite films of 2016 so far.

Everybody Wants Some!!
Writer/Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Zoey Deutch

Linklater is one of the true chameleons of American film, able to slip between genres and legitimately make it feel as if he's mastered any given one at a particular time. Look at intimate, talky dramas like the Before trilogy or Boyhood, fun projects aimed at kids like School of Rock and Bad News Bears, and more heady adult pieces like Tape or A Scanner Darkly — they all have an assured sense of control to them. His period piece comedies, epitomized by Dazed and Confused and that film's spiritual sequel, Everybody Wants Some!!, feel as if no one else on Earth could have made them. Could someone else have made something with a similar plotline? Of course. But there's an innate effortlessness here that comes through as we're watching. We're in the hands of someone who knows how to make the absolute most out of a character-driven story like this, and his eye for casting and ear for music (his excellent needle drops rival Tarantino's) are both in top form here.

Set over the final long weekend before the fall college semester begins, we follow this story through the eyes of a freshman pitcher named Jake (Blake Jenner), who is quickly integrated into the dynamics of his eclectic teammates when he moves into the team's off-campus house. We're introduced to each of the mustachioed, goofy-haired guys in whirlwind fashion, but don't worry if you don't catch their names — it's the personalities that matter, and these dudes run the gamut from cocky and arrogant to just plain weird, and they're all a ton of fun to watch.

The film excels at capturing the camaraderie of being part of a team, with everyone constantly busting each others' balls and being outrageously competitive about everything from ping pong games to who can withstand the most pain when another guy flicks his knuckles. But as is often the case with Linklater's filmography, the movie always feels inclusive and relatable. Though practically all of the guys are constantly horny and marginally rough around the edges, you come to love them all by the end. I remember hearing some old adage about writing that says the more specific you are, the more universally relatable it becomes, and while that seems counterintuitive, this film is a great example of that adage at work.

There are few things I like watching less in movies than people sitting around getting high, simply because I almost always find it boring. Seeing the same stoner cliches again and again on film has lost its appeal for me, but Linklater's take on this trope is a highlight in this movie. It all comes down to the characters and what they bring to the table, and the blonde, California-bred, Twilight Zone-loving Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) is wildly entertaining even when he's saying things that would make me roll my eyes if they popped up in a similar scene in another movie ("Of course you like Van Halen, because corporate America is shoving them down our throats!" or "Do you ever think humans will get back to communicating telepathically?"). That character is also the source of one of the movie's rare moments of actual profundity. The film isn't afraid to have its characters blusteringly philosophize in the way that college students are wont to do, but at one point Willoughby has a conversation with Jake at a bar about finding their identity that feels genuine and emotionally truthful — a conversation that takes on an even deeper meaning by the film's ending. 

There's plenty of casual sex, drinking, and other college cliches on display here, but all the while, Linklater manages to keep the film from tipping into parody, thanks in huge part to the natural charm of its cast. As Jake and fellow freshman Beverly (Zoey Deutch) crush on each other, the team goes from club to club in the small Texas town, hooking up with girls and partying through the night. Glen Powell is a standout as Finnegan, a veteran player who leads the team in scoring with the ladies and never passes up the opportunity for a speech or clever quip. Eventually baseball does factor into this movie, but the film's only real conflict involves one of the players trying to assert his dominance over the alpha male of the team (Tyler Hoechlin). I won't spoil how that goes down.

A launchpad for young talent and an immensely enjoyable trip through the college lifestyle, Everybody Wants Some!! is laid back, laugh-out-loud funny, and endearingly earnest. In other words, it's a Richard Linklater movie through and through.

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