Everybody Wants Some!! (exclamation points included) was probably the perfect SXSW opening-night movie, it being a “spiritual sequel” to the cult classic Dazed and Confused, written and directed by the Austin film scene’s favored son, Richard Linklater. Linklater was in attendance to introduce the film, along with most of the cast, and Kurt Russell was even on hand, there to support his son, Wyatt, who’s in the film. (In the future, all actors will be the offspring of other actors.)
Over the course of two hours, Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, gradually goes from detestable to damn near lovable, an eventually enjoyable movie I almost walked out of. It’s broad and cheesy and kind of porny, but eventually you come to realize that it’s not “college” porn, but a very specific porn based on an idealized version of Richard Linklater’s own college experience. College hijinks have been done to death, but there’s something endearing and slightly universal about a middle-aged man looking back on his college years and only remembering the parts that were super awesome(!!).
The story’s set in 1980, in the days before classes start at a Texas college. The protagonist is once again a pitcher (Jake, played by Blake Jenner), the themes once again are hazing, finding yourself, and everyone trying to get laid. The opening scene, with Jake driving his cool muscle car to “the baseball house” to meet his new teammates/roommates, is set to The Knack’s “My Sharona” (ugh) which soon gives way to “Rapper’s Delight,” which the cast sings along to (ugh x 10). It feels a little like a musical theater production of Debbie Does Dallas.
It’s all party music, sexy chicks in short shorts, bros being bros, and everyone’s so stoked and sexed-up and sexy that it’s almost a spring break porno. It’s equal parts watchable and irritating, because as much as I enjoy hot college girls in short shorts mud wrestling, part of me hates that movies like this had me convinced college was going to be a four-year Solo cup f*ck fest. Because when I actually showed up, most of the girls there wore pajamas to class and on the first night I found my new suite mates, none of whom had ever drank before, in the midst of a spirited LAN party. The traditional college myth has always felt mildly toxic to me in some way. How many 18-year-old dudes show up at the dorms thinking the world owes them foam orgies? That said, who am I to say that college wasn’t just that much more awesome in Texas in 1980 than it was at UCSD in the early 2000s? And okay, I eventually did attend one backyard mud wrestling party, but there was at least a full year of alienating misanthropy preceding it.
The porny-ness of Everybody Wants Some!! never really goes away, but you eventually settle in and accept that it’s kind of an older dude’s nostalgic love letter to all the best parts of college. It’s very much college experience porn. The sex feels a little too easy and the dudes a little too tool-y (it might not be that unrealistic, they are supposed to be baseball players, after all, the tooliest athletes of all). But if you can see past all the screwing and bad music, Linklater really does get the spirit of it right.
Most movies get male athlete group dynamics so wrong that when you actually find kernels of relatability, it feels like a revelation. Linklater’s take on hazing (“everybody is going to be the chump at some point, it’s how you handle your turn that defines you”) is refreshingly unsensationalistic. Not many people will say it, and not many ex-athletes become filmmakers, but Linklater expresses a rarely-acknowledged truth: that a lot of us actually have pretty fond memories of being hazed, and found it to be at least a mildly positive experience. You know how in Magic Mike you kept expecting one of the characters to OD on drugs or get paralyzed in a car accident in order to teach us all a valuable lesson? But then it never happens and you’re kind of glad? Everybody Wants Some!! is like that. This is a movie about college, not learning.
There’s a bar fight scene near the beginning that’s so bad that for a minute I actually wondered whether there was some chase scene happening inside Linklater’s brain that made him forget how to make movies the way the little girl in Inside Out almost forgot how to play hockey. Turns out the scene’s more of a speed bump (and is focused on a minor character who doesn’t really work at all), but also, fits into a larger theme of the movie. Perhaps EWS‘s strongest theme is the way college allows people the opportunity to sort of road test different identities.
The characters aren’t endearing at first, and let’s be honest, neither were Dazed and Confused‘s. (Have you noticed every single person in that movie is an asshole you’d never want to hang out with?) Once again, Linklater has made the strange choice of having one of his least charismatic actors play the lead. He also seems to have chosen his cast based on baseball ability. Unrealistic sports skills is one of those things ex-athletes tend to notice, desperate as we are to point out that some handsome actor throws like a sissy to make us feel better about having spent our formative years playing grabass with our friends instead of having sex with other theater majors, but this actually might be the most believably athletic cast ever assembled.