Dazed and Confused was the first undisputed masterpiece of Richard Linklater’s directing career and it remains one of his most iconic achievements twenty three years later. It’s hard to believe that in the time between Dazed’s release and the arrival of its ‘spiritual sequel’ Everybody Wants Some!!, the soul-searching Texan has directed at least four additional, arguably more accomplished masterpieces (the Before trilogy and Boyhood – though I would add Waking Life and School of Rock to the list). Especially in recent years, the unparalleled quality of his output demonstrates constant growth as a filmmaker, and a ceaseless desire to continue learning, innovating and honing his craft long after many directors might settle into a complacent rhythm. I consider Linklater the most important American filmmaker working right now, and his newest movie is just one more reason why.
At the time Boyhood came out, many viewed it as the ultimate culmination of his career, but the truth is that every new Linklater movie nowadays acts as a culmination. A few early-aughts missteps notwithstanding, he has always moved forward with a singular agenda, keeping every lesson he’s learned in the rear view mirror. Here he takes all the most successful elements and themes of his best films, from the lived-in time period renderings of Dazed and Confused to the emphasis on life’s smaller moments of Boyhood to the ticking-clock temporality of Before Sunrise, and refurbishes them into something vivacious and new. Though marketed purely as a follow-up to Dazed, Everybody Wants Some!! is essentially a successor to his entire filmography.
It’s also something we haven’t truly seen from the director in a while – fun as hell. This is a college movie after all, and one of the purest ever made. We begin in a situation strikingly similar to Boyhood‘s ending, with a freshman (this one named Jake, played by Blake Jenner) driving up to campus. The entire film takes place in the few days leading to the start of the fall semester (it was referred to at my school as ‘welcome week’), as Jake moves in to his baseball house and meets his eclectic, eccentric teammates. After everyone gets acquainted with Jake and the other newbies, they all go out drinking, talk to girls, smoke weed, talk amongst themselves, practice baseball, and talk some more.
What I just described isn’t the first few scenes. It’s the entire movie. There isn’t really a plot in the traditional sense, nor are there obstacles (which isn’t to say there isn’t conflict, but it tends to be contained to specific scenes instead of over an arc). What we get instead is more akin to real life. Movement through locations both familiar and unknown, teaming with people who are all trying to do what they want and be who they want. They partake in an endless stream of fragmented conversations that can be both extremely banal or earnestly profound depending on perspective. All of this is expertly sold through camerawork that isn’t showy, but knows how to capture intricate details of the 1980s (the masterful soundtrack choices and production design are key here), and charming dialogue from a well developed array of lovable, goofy characters. The good times are infectious, and you will smile.
This is one of those rare movies where casting is one of the most vital elements. Casting unproven actors can be a risky proposition, but in doing just that (every actor is either completely unknown or barely established in the industry), they truly feel like strangers to us, as they are to Jake. For a movie that relies heavily on the feeling of entering a new world and meeting new friends, this is essential. Given that these are generally untested talents, it’s impressive that almost every performance is right on the mark. There’s so much internal variety to each character and so much dynamism in how they interact with one another, that fans will be fighting over their favorites for years to come. Mine are Juston Street as over-confident Detroiter Jay, and Zoey Deutch as Jake’s theater-major love interest Beverly. No matter who resonates, watching this movie imparts the wondrous sensation of watching a dozen promising careers take flight at once.
If there’s one aspect I can see people taking issue with, it’s simply that for all their individual quirks, the entire baseball team essentially falls under a category of person formerly known as jocks, now referred to as bros. If somebody is already hardwired against this generalized ‘kind’ of person and lifestyle, it may be a challenge to truly connect with these people. Aside from slight confusion as to whether or not the movie was promoting misogyny or just being honest to a certain experience, connecting wasn’t a problem for me. I was frequently reminded of last year’s Magic Mike XXL, which was a similarly conflict-less ‘bros with hearts of gold’ movie. Linklater pulls a similar feat, humanizing meatheads in a way that is very infrequent in a pop culture landscape that usually sides with outsiders. There are no outsiders in Everybody Wants Some!!‘s equalizing (if at times naively utopian) vision of collegiate self-discovery.
The delicate method which the movie urges audiences to live in the moment, through the creation of authentic approximated moments of its own, is nothing short of miraculous. The first act leaves you wondering who these people are and what point there is in following them. By the second act, you stop caring; like your actual friends in your actual place in time, at the end of the day you still want nothing more than to spend time with them, talk about interesting ideas and have some fun. By the third act, we’re hit by the stunning realization that that’s really all there is to it – and that’s fine. Life doesn’t build up to anything. It’s all about being present, hanging out, thinking about things. Never have I seen a movie articulate that in such vivid, hopeful fashion.
The effect that Everybody Wants Some!! accomplishes may not be as immediate as Boyhood’s mind-boggling visual metamorphosis, but it’s exactly the lack of showiness, the decision not to compromise subtlety on the way to achieving emotional incisiveness, that allows this movie to so thoroughly sink into our brains and alter our perception of the human experience. Linklater is a master of space and time, and the intense mixture of nostalgia for the past and optimism for the present he elicits through his manipulation of those two elements can only be described as magic. That makes Linklater a powerful, badass sorcerer, by the way, and this movie sneaks up on you like only the best magic tricks can.
Score: 4.5 out of 5