I was finally won over in the last act, when Everybody Wants Some! turns a little emotional, a little “girly.”
Everybody Wants Some!, directed by Richard Linklater. At the Kendall Square Cinema, AMC Loews Common.
By Gerald Peary
Richard Linklater has branded Everybody Wants Some! a “spiritual sequel” to his earlier Dazed and Confused (1993), with Dazed and Confused’s pack of 1970s high school boys, after a summer break and with new identities, off, in fall 1980, to freshman year at college. Critics have piped in that Boyhood (2014) ends with teenager, Mason, at the moment of entering university, so that Everybody Wants Some! is also some kind of Boyhood sequel. Not only is Everyone Wants Some! deeply personal in Linklater’s oeuvre, it’s also nakedly autobiographical. Floppy-haired Blake Jenner, cast as Jake Bradford, the film’s protagonist, is a look-alike for young Rick Linklater. Like his character, Jake, Rick is a native Texan who attended a small Texas college, Sam Houston State, on a baseball scholarship.
(Lucky for us, Linklater suffered a blowout injury, which stopped short a wished-for trip into the minor leagues for a talented second baseman. He dropped out of college, worked for a short time on an off-shore oil rig, and then, back on land, chose a different career path.)
There’s more than autobiography in Everybody Wants Some! We should not forget to factor into the movie what seems the film’s real “spiritual father,” that infamous anti-PC guilty pleasure, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). In both films, a university’s Apollonian claim to be an epicenter of learning and intellectual development is a total sham. Dionysus reigns. Everyone is at college for the party-going. Period. In Animal House, the university administrators we meet are all hapless grotesques. In Everybody Wants Some!, the sole college teacher we see, in mismatched jacket and pants, appears only in long shot in the last scene of the movie. Far off and powerless. “Who the hell is that?” asks a student, unable to grasp what that old guy by the blackboard has to do with higher education.
Higher education? Getting high, on weed or beer. Getting laid. Perhaps the most arresting “student” in Everybody Wants Some! is Finnigan (Glen Powell), a charming rogue—pipe smoking, Kerouac-reading — who uses his verbal dexterity as his major tool in getting coeds into the sack. He’s the cocky heir of the smooth-talking frat rodents of Animal House who sounded, at their smug wittiest, like the amoral rakes from a Restoration stage comedy.
I am a lifetime baseball fan but I’m also a Northeastern intellectual, a friend to feminism, a left liberal. And I’m old. For a long time, I couldn’t get into the philistine, Southern swagger of those we hang out with in Everybody Wants Some!: the budding guys on the baseball team, who share a house and don’t need to belong to a fraternity to act like heathen brothers. It’s four days before the college semester begins, and those days are taken up with drinking, doping, playing, in lieu of baseball, lots of ridiculous competitive games and, above all, scoring with anonymous, ever-willing young ladies. Am I just being paranoid? I imagined these almost-all white boys later in life, living high off the hog in rural Texas, good ole’ men in their late 50s, voting one and all for Rick Perry and Ted Cruz.
It’s hard to separate the unapologetic sexism of the baseball players, for whom Linklater has an obvious affection, from chauvinism in Linklater’s point-of-view. Should he be tougher on his macho crew, or, as he does, forgive their cave boy attitudes as part of his utopian stance on college life 1980? I suggest a reading of an excellent review by new MTV critic Amy Nicholson, in which, disappointed by his new film, she scolds Linklater for having “a lame midlife crisis.”
Me? I was finally won over in the last act, when Everybody Wants Some! turns a little emotional, a little “girly.” After three days of male carousing, Thursday-Saturday, Jake settles down on Sunday with Beverly (Zoey Deutsch) a smart, sassy, ambitious, artsy dance and drama major. The other guys can’t believe it: he “likes” her. Jake wants to see Zoey as more than a midnight bounce on a bed. What can I say? Both young actors are winning and sweet, and I put behind me Jake’s earlier moments of piggy behavior. (Hey, I’ve been there! Oink, oink,) Jake has learned something meaningful in three days: women are more than sexual objects. And now it’s time, Monday, to actually start college.
If Jake is Richard Linklater’s alter ego in his movie, where do we see in Jake the seed of the person who would become a pioneer indie filmmaker? Pointedly, there’s not one movie reference anywhere in Everybody Wants Some! But around Jake there are some who are sensitive to the arts, starting with his new girlfriend and his Beat-reading baseball cohort, Finnigan. Most importantly, there’s the odd guy who is somehow on the baseball team: Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a bearded, weathered, Californian hippy. He quotes from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, he owns a roomful of Twilight Zone VHS tapes. He blames the crowd’s love of the band Van Halen on the power of corporations to form mass taste. Best of all, he delivers long, winding soliloquys on whatever. And that’s a key to Linklater’s sensibility: his devotion to disquisition. It’s the road to the moviemaker’s first hit film, Slacker (1991), a roundelay of alternative people walking about and holding forth. In weird Austin, a Democratic oasis in Texas, where Linklater landed and stayed.
Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of nine books on cinema, writer-director of the documentaries For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism and Archie’s Betty, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.