In Richard Linklater’s raucously nostalgic 1993 coming-of-age masterpiece, Dazed and Confused, there’s a scene toward the end of the film when, after a long night of beer-drinking and weed-smoking by the moon tower, Jason London’s reluctant jock hero, Pink, announces to his friends: “All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.” What makes the scene particularly great — and Dazed and Confused has no shortage of great scenes — is its obvious irony. There’s absolutely no question that one day, like Linklater, he’ll look back and realize that these were the best years of his life. The audience knows it, Linklater knows it, and deep down, maybe Pink even knows it, too.
Linklater made that film when he was 32. And like Pink, he’d been a promising high school athlete in the ‘70s with a freak side and an anti-authoritarian streak. The film was the statement of an adult glancing in the rearview mirror of life only to see a Pontiac GTO blaring Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” reflected back at him. Linklater’s older now. Aren’t we all? Fifty-five to be exact. And after the decade-plus time commitment of Boyhood, it must have seemed like a good time to downshift his ambition and take another look in that rearview mirror. Set four years after Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is a sort of spiritual sequel to the hazy, bicentennial summer highjinks of Pink & Co. Like that film, it shares the same authenticity – the same wistful air of autobiography. The clothes, the cars, the songs playing on the radio (including the Van Halen title track), hell, even the mustaches and telephones, all of it feels specific and spot on. When the date appears on screen at the opening of the film — August 28, 1980 — it almost seems redundant to point out.
That date, though, is important because it’s also three days before classes start at the unnamed Texas college where the film takes place. And as we’re about to see, nothing and everything happens during those three days. Glee’s Blake Jenner stars as Jake, a good-guy freshman pitcher (and likely Linklater surrogate) who arrives on campus, where he meets the teammates he’ll be sharing a run-down house with for the next four years. In a movie as loose and relaxed as this one is, a ticking clock seems sort of extraneous and unnecessary. But still, the guys have three days (more or less) to sniff each other out and come together on and off the field through the traditional alpha-male rites of getting wasted on Schlitz, messing with one another, and trying to pick up girls.
Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is an ensemble comedy swirling around a cast of relative unknowns (although this movie seems less likely to become the breakout vehicle Dazed was for Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and Parker Posey). They’re like a low-payroll baseball team that’s light on all-stars but strong on clubhouse chemistry. There’s Glen Powell as Finn, the endearing loquacious smoothie; there’s Juston Street as Jay, the psycho loose-cannon fireballer; and Wyatt (son of Kurt) Russell as Willoughby, the older, sage-like stoner who quotes Carl Sagan after ripping bong hits.
The guys’ days are spent mostly indoors getting to know each other, gelling into a family, and figuring out their role within the collective through trivial competitions which some of them take way too seriously, whether it’s heated ping pong matches or knuckle-flicking endurance tests. These are jocks, after all, and to them even the most insignificant contest carries the strong-as-B.O. stench of macho one-upmanship. Linklater, refreshingly, doesn’t paint these jocks as threatened (or threatening) frat-boy clichés — maybe because he’s an ex-jock himself. They’re just a bunch of knuckleheads looking for a good time. It’s Animal House wrapped in a whiff of Bengay.
As insular and tribal as they are during the day, the guys’ nights are when they open themselves up to the possibilities beyond their small little fiefdom of jock privilege, trying on different personalities to check out different scenes and look for the next party, the next conquest. One night they get dolled up in polyester shirts and snug jeans to cruise a campus disco called The Sound Machine. The next they hoot it up line-dancing at a honky-tonk and a slam dance at a punk club. And finally, they invite themselves along on Jake’s date with Beverly, a sunny performing arts student (a radiant Zoey Deutch), into a world that may seem foreign and slightly affected to them — an Alice in Wonderland-themed theater-department party — but manage to be open-minded enough to, to have a blast at anyway. And why not? Being 18 and on your own for the first time means being open to whatever curveball gets thrown your way (just as long as there’s a chilled keg and hot babes involved).
Everybody Wants Some!! may be a little shambling and uneventful. But like college, it’s the late aimless nights and idle afternoons that you look back on most fondly when you get older. If you step back and think about it too much, Linklater’s movie is really just two hours of spying on a bunch of goofy guys bonding and partying. So maybe the best way to watch it is to not take that step back and think about it at all, and just let the good times roll. B+