Review: Linklater nails another anthropological comedy with ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’

If I had to estimate how many times I”ve seen Richard Linklater”s Dazed & Confused since it was released in 1993, I”d be willing to bet it”s over three dozen by now. I adore the film, and it”s one of those movies that has grown over time for me. The more I”ve gone back to it, the longer I”ve lived with it, the more I”ve found in it. That movie has a cast that was largely unknown at the time but that has gone on to look almost overstuffed with star power. It is a remarkable ensemble, and even the kids who didn”t go on to further work or bigger stardom did work that has aged beautifully.

I never got around to seeing a trailer for this one. In fact, it almost feels like Paramount”s sneaking it out. It just premiered at SXSW, and then I got invited to a press screening and read on the invite that the film was coming out the next day. Normally when films are treated like that by a distributor, it”s because they”re no good and the studio”s looking to minimize the damage, but that”s certainly not the case. Everybody Wants Some!! (I like the double exclamation points) is a direct mirror held up to Dazed & Confused, but with 23 years of experience under Richard Linklater”s belt.

No one working in pop filmmaking right now is doing anything quite like Richard Linklater. More than anything, he is interested in behavior and time, and in his films, behavior is both story and character. It allows him to work in a very natural mode, making films that are deceptively simple. They look on the surface like nothing happens, but that”s not really the case. It”s just that Linklater isn”t interested in manufacturing some false drama. Instead, he”s after the real drama that ebbs and flows around us, just like the real comedy. He is, in the starkest possible terms, an anthropologist with a movie camera and he uses his own life as the raw material that he mines when he”s making these films. His body of work, including Boyhood and the trilogy of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, is built from some of the unlikeliest thematic choices, but that”s what makes it not only significant but enduring. These are movies that are designed to be revisited like books, full of observations both micro and macro, and Everybody Wants Some!! falls neatly into his filmography, feeling already like an old favorite that I know I”ll continue to explore in the future.

One of the things I find intriguing is how this film is structured to be almost a direct inversion of Dazed. In that film, Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) is graduating middle school and preparing to head into the terrifying new world of high school. We follow him and the rest of the massive criss-crossing matrix of characters through one long night as they celebrate the end of the school year. What Dazed does so beautifully is capture that feeling of the first night of independence as a sort of rite of passage. Mitch isn”t a wildly rebellious kid, but neither are most people. Instead, his is the quiet rebellion that comes when you find yourself pulled into the world of older kids for the first time, mobile because they have their own cars, where drugs and sex are suddenly part of the conversation. The shaggy, woozy structure of Dazed is a perfect match for the subject matter, and by the time Mitch settles into his bed and puts on those headphones, exhausted and grounded and so, so happy, his life has changed completely. It is a matter of inches, though, and Linklater knows that. So often, movies feel like the stakes have to be cataclysmic to matter to an audience, but Linklater understands that in life, real seismic changes are subterranean, and on the outside, it all looks very small.

In Everybody Wants Some!!, Jake (Blake Jenner) is starting college, and he shows up to the small Texas town where the school is located three days before class begins. He”s a baseball player, and he”s sent to live in one of the baseball houses with his teammates. The film counts down to the first class on the first day, and that slowly ticking clock gives us our structure here. By focusing on the start of the school year instead of the end of one, Linklater”s not really talking about the same thing at all. Sure, this has some of that same hazy restlessness that Dazed had, but that”s all about exploring the freedom of unlimited opportunity, that taste of freedom that promises so much more in the future. This is about the first moments where you realize that adulthood is incoming, where those options start to become more narrowly focused. It is about the realization that childhood is over, and that your choices matter now. How you identify yourself is no longer a matter of navigating the cliques of high school; it”s about the picture you have of what your life is going to be. Who are you? A baseball player? A dancer? A punk rocker? A shitkicker? A disco lizard? Can you trade identities every night based on where you are? Or at some point, do you have to pick a card and simply let the trick play out?

While Jake is certainly the character who we follow through the film, much more overtly this time than in Dazed, where you could argue Randall “Pink” Floyd was just as central to the movie as Mitch, Jake certainly comes into contact with a rich array of supporting characters. Linklater has once again cast the heck out of the movie, employing a small army of talented young actors. Some of them are more familiar than others, but there”s no one here who I would even remotely describe as a star. Not yet, anyway. It”ll be interesting to look back at this one in a decade to see who pops. Wyatt Russell makes a strong showing as Willoughby, a freshman pitcher with a penchant for philosophy and marijuana, while Glen Powell is all oily charm and motormouthed id, only occasionally showing proof that he”s got some sort of soul buried under all that facade. Juston Street is the closest equivalent here to the Ben Affleck role in Dazed & Confused, a very highly strung loony who may or may not have a 95 mph fastball. Zoey Deutch plays Beverly, a drama student who catches Jake”s eye early. Like Russell, she has an easy charisma, and it”s probably not a coincidence that Russell”s father is Kurt Russell or that Deutch”s mother is Lea Thompson. Austin Amelio is laugh-out-loud funny as Nesbit, the biggest mutant on the team, and I suspect he”s going to be one of the hardest-working people in the entire cast. He seems like the kind of guy who gets plugged into a thousand different ensembles easily. And that's really just scratching the surface. Scene after scene, everyone scores. Everyone's good. Everyone's living this thing for real.

Shane Kelly”s been working as a cinematographer since the mid-’90s, and his work here does an excellent job of capturing a long boozy weekend in 1980 without leaning on any easy indicators, and the same is true of Bruce Curtis and his production design. He doesn”t lean on easy nostalgia in order to establish time and place. It”s way more subtle than that, and it really works. Again, though, that”s part of what makes Linklater who he is. He”s going to push for an immersive reality on a film like this, a plunge back in time, and I can say this as someone who lived through these moments. When I look at his 1976 or his 1980, everything feels right. Everything feels lived in and real. I was in Texas in 1980, living in Conroe just outside of Houston, and when I see this movie, I can tell you what the air smelled like, what the sun felt like. It”s like being transported, and that”s not simply because of a momentary geographical overlap that happened. It”s because Linklater has become expert and capturing all of this. It has always been his knack, but as he continues to work, he has refined the way he works, and Everybody Wants Some!! offers a mature and crystal-clear voice, a filmmaker of enormous muscle who makes it all look ridiculously easy.

Everybody Wants Some!! is in theaters now.