If you thought that Richard Linklater would be beyond exhausted by now, you were dead wrong. His last film, 2014's universally acclaimed Awards darling "Boyhood" re-certified the writer-director's timeless mark on the American film industry. Both a meditative mood piece and a technical showcase as it was shot for a few months every year for twelve years, that film served as a culmination of his entire filmography that blended elements of his "Before" trilogy, 'Waking Life", "Slacker" and "Suburbia". As it chronicled one boy's evolution from infant and on through early adulthood, the movie tackled a variety of relatable themes even if it’s central protagonist, Mason, wasn't exactly the most emotive of actors to attach to this project. It showed how Linklater's skill as a storyteller and thoughtful craftsman only continues to defy everything else he's done before.
This brings me to his latest, "Everybody Wants Some!!” a go-for-broke, loose and limber film with a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants story structure that is a truly fun and fully energized piece from start to finish. This is billed as a spiritual sequel to the writer-director's 1990s frequently VHS-recorded cult fav "Dazed and Confused" that starred a boyish Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey", Resident Evil star to be babe Milla Jovovich and Broadway lead from "Rent" Anthony Rapp in memorable supporting roles. While that film traversed high school in Texas in the mid-1970s, this one jumps to that same state in 1980 where the revelry and experimentation of a bunch of athletes in college takes center stage. Like its predecessor, this one was directly mined from Linklater's own experiences. As it turns out, before he ever considered a career as a filmmaker, he had his sights on being a professional baseball player. The beautiful aspect of this movie is that it’s incredibly optimistic and buoyant and despite Linklater's ambitious plans as a pro athlete ultimately petering out as being nothing more than dreams deferred, his film offers a perspective of having no regrets. Instead, he serves up pop philosophy and well-drawn characterizations.
You may be thinking if you have to be an athlete, a male, or young to enjoy and connect to this film. That's not the case at all for there are plenty of winning and touching moments for every generation of film goer. If you've ever contemplated the "What If?" aspects of your life and what an alternate plan or decision may have led to, "Everybody Wants Some!!" doesn't offer easy answers but could give you the clarity you’ve been missing. The gaggle of guys and some gals in this film - all relative unknowns in the spirit of the former film's cast - makes this just under 2 hour jaunt fly by with effortless glee. I found myself smiling ear to ear the entire time and found that, unlike "Boyhood", this movie was the inverse of a mopey drag. In that respect, it’s a much stronger and universal coming-of-age film that doesn't take unwelcome, brooding and overly-intellectual detours. In terms of diminishing rewatchability, "Boyhood" doesn't exactly hold up to repeat viewing especially because without the twelve-years-in-the-making gimmick that was employed, would be an otherwise average film. This movie, on the other hand, has this resonant quality of a time gone by that exudes charm, passion and remarkable bursts of commentary in equal measure. It is definitely a movie that you can walk in on even half way through and still attach yourself to as if you never missed a beat. How many films can you really say that about?
As mentioned before, the game cast makes this little gem really fire on all cylinders. Blake Jenner, husband to "Supergirl" star Melissa Benoist, is this film's central POV - the initially quiet college freshman who is thrown into the fast and frivolous high-life of athletic scholarship at a Texas college with ultimate bragging rights from his upper classmen on the team. Not one to ascribe to outcast status, his character is genial and confident enough to quickly assimilate with his elders as they head from one raucous party to the next. Amid all that, he is welcomed by hazing rituals. One of the highlight sequences is dubbed "freshman batting practice" where older classmates on the team tape the freshman players to the front of the bullpen and hit baseballs at them. All in good fun, of course. In these sequences, Linklater really brings an endearing touch as he utilizes his game cast to deliver witty commentary on brotherhood and fellowship along with the integral nature of friendship. Jenner - a shockingly good looking and very lanky actor - exudes this effortlessness strut that makes you realize just how underutilized his talents were with his stint on the Fox musical comedy-drama "Glee". In that former series, his character, Ryder Lynn was introduced in that show’s Season 4, arguably its worst run of episodes by far. While his singing chops were nothing to scoff at, Jenner’s awkward delivery and ham-fisted plot points made him and the bulk of the new cast for the show bland and baseless. Here, Linklater really gives him the creative freedom to roam and to his own and the film’s credit that decision was wise. On the strength of Linklater’s very strong writing and charismatic direction, you’d think you were watching an entirely different actor. This role alone should certify his star power on the big screen.
Jenner’s performance, while uniformly excellent, wouldn’t be enough to carry the entire film. That’s where this wickedly talented cast of fresh blood costars come to play hard ball. Zoey Deutch, with her pixy-like charm and springy, sweet earnestness is the perfect romantic foil as Beverly, a performing arts major that Jenner’s Jake meets at the climax of the film. Realizing that he’s just used to the same restrictive, athletes-only parties and campus social scenes, Beverly opens up Jake’s world to experimental and soul-changing activities. One magnificent sequence that represents this is when Jake volunteers to participate in one of Beverly’s costumed acting skits with an Alice in Wonderland theme. With Jake’s baseball bros. looking on in amusement and bewilderment, he winds up rising to the occasion and impresses himself and the girl who successfully brought down the social wall separating them. His core compadres – the blonde, philosophy-quoting smooth talker Finnegan, the brazen, wannabe ladies’ man Roper, the McConaughey sound-a-like Beuter and the truly over confident wise cracker McReynolds – bring the movie totally full circle in stupendously fun ways. There’s seldom been a bromance feature film quite like this one with a surgeon’s attention to detail that speaks from the heart of every man and also most every woman. Linklater has famously featured empowering females in his movies since his breakout star Julie Delpy first captivated the world over in ‘Before Sunrise’ more than 20 years ago so it goes as no surprise that misogyny is absent. In its place is nothing but good-hearted and well-intentioned on screen chemistry and interpersonal connectivity that lights up the screen constantly.
It is without a doubt that I can recommend “Everybody Wants Some!!” to anyone who has a heartbeat. Even if you couldn’t’ find the unlabeled VHS for “Dazed and Confused” in your collection, you’ll immediately feel a very similar rush in this latest offering that’ll make you want to revisit it. And oh, stick around for the post-credits!