Director: Richard Linklater / 117m
Cast: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Tyler Hoechlin, J. Quinton Johnson, Ryan Guzman, Temple Baker, Wyatt Russell, Juston Street, Will Brittain, Austin Amelio, Forrest Vickery, Tanner Kalina, Zoey Deutch
Fresh from his success with Boyhood (2014), writer/director Richard Linklater has created a movie that begins where that movie ended – albeit with different characters. Set over a long weekend before the start of college, Everybody Wants Some!! sees freshman pitcher Jake (Jenner) arrive at a college in Texas and ready to see where college life will take him. It’s not long before he’s introduced to most of the rest of the team, and it’s even sooner when it’s suggested they all go out for a beer. While travelling round they try and tempt girls into coming to their frat house that night, but have middling luck; two girls in particular turn them down flat, though one of them does indicate she thinks Jake is attractive.
Over the course of the day Jake gets to meet everyone on the team, from coolly confident and loquacious Finnegan (Powell), to roommate Billy (renamed Beuter by his teammates) (Brittain), to knowledgeable, helpful Dale (Johnson), all the way to Jay aka Raw Dog (Street), a gonzoid character whose pitching speed is said to be around 95mph. Jake soon fits in with the established team’s sense of camaraderie, and the way they haze each other. Made to feel at home he soon becomes aware of the various dynamics within the team and learns from other players such as Willoughby (Russell) and McReynolds (Hoechlin) that even though they might party each and every night, nothing is more important than the team and supporting each other, and that they take playing baseball very seriously indeed.
Over the course of the weekend, Jake learns some very valuable lessons and takes a chance on contacting the girl who thought he was attractive. While his teammates concentrate on having as much “fun” as they can possibly manage with as many girls as is humanly possible, Jake gets to know the girl, Beverly (Deutch), and discovers that he likes her very much. An invitation to a Sunday night party Beverly is helping to organise for the college performing arts students leads to the team coming along too, and Jake worrying that their behaviour may cause problems, and especially for him with Beverly. But it doesn’t go entirely the way he believes based on his experiences of the previous two days.
Everybody Wants Some!! – the title comes from a Van Halen track off their Women and Children First album – looks at first as if it’s going to be yet another generic coming of age movie where the hero struggles to fit in and must find a way of being accepted by the clique or college fraternity he’s been assigned to. Even Jake’s first encounter with McReynolds, where he makes it clear he doesn’t like pitchers, seems to confirm the antagonism and animosity that Jake is likely to face as he tries to establish himself. But Linklater is not a director who deals in cliché, and what feels like the first of many obstacles Jake has to overcome in order to be accepted, proves to be the last, as his arrival is welcomed and he’s accepted into the fold with alacrity.
Linklater is clever enough to make Jake quietly likeable and offhandedly friendly, taking each new introduction as it comes and avoiding being fazed by a lot of the seemingly unfriendly behaviour exhibited by his teammates. He soon comes to realise that he’s no longer the big fish in the little pond of high school, but just a little fish in a much bigger pond, and others on the team – Beuter, fellow freshman Plummer (Baker) – are in the same predicament. Jake doesn’t know how things are going to turn out but he learns early on, that whatever happens his teammates will be there to support him. From the vagaries and disappointments and minor successes of high school, Jake now has to prove himself all over again, but thankfully in a much more encouraging environment.
Of course, this being college, high spirited behaviour is the order of the day, and the movie excels in recreating the kind of unabashed hedonistic lifestyle of the very early Eighties, where excessive drinking and smoking weed and pursuing women for sex was regarded as normal for young males at the time, and whose testosterone-fuelled exploits were (rightly or wrongly) regarded as the stuff of future legend. Out of this, Linklater shows how these young men bond unconditionally, and treat each other with respect even while they’re playing pranks on each other, or treating each other with an apparent disregard for their feelings. They might not say it to each other, and Linklater stops short of saying it directly, but there is a love here that is stronger than any individual relationships they may form outside the team. And they do know how to party, whether it’s at a disco, or at the frat house, or at a country and western bar dancing to Cotton Eye Joe – these guys live for the moment in a way that successive college students (and not just in America) have been trying to emulate ever since. It was in many ways a simpler time: pre-AIDS, pre-designer drugs, and pre-social media, and Linklater highlights how little pressure college students felt as they navigated the rocky road to adulthood.
What’s also clever about the movie and its ensemble cast of characters is the speed and succinctness that Linklater employs in allowing the viewer to get to know them. Faced with around a dozen characters, most of whom are given little or no background information to help the viewer distinguish them from each other (at first), the movie could have stumbled around introducing them, and made no impact at all. But Linklater doesn’t put a foot wrong with any of them, and broadens each character’s screen time and appeal as the movie progresses, so that by the time the movie’s reached the halfway point you may well feel you’ve known them a whole lot longer. Linklater is helped in this by some terrific performances, and though it would be a little unfair to pick out any one actor ahead of anyone else, special mention must go to Glen Powell as Finnegan. His performance is the jewel in the movie’s crown: self-assured, confident, engaging, overtly dramatic when required, and quietly impressive throughout.
Of course, Everybody Wants Some!! wouldn’t be a Richard Linklater movie set in the early Eighties without it having a killer soundtrack, and that’s exactly the case, with the director choosing a selection of songs that help both recreate the times and the social atmosphere that went along with them. There’s some iconic tunes to be sure, but it’s the way Linklater uses them that’s so effective, with the likes of Heartbreaker by Pat Benatar and Hand in Hand by Dire Straits used in support of the material and not just because they might sound good at a certain moment. The movie is also beautifully lensed by DoP Shane F. Kelly, which in turn highlights the wonderful period production design and costumes – take a bow Bruce Curtis and Kari Perkins respectively.
Rating: 9/10 – a delightful mix of comedy and drama that doesn’t short change or undermine either discipline, Everybody Wants Some!! is a movie that offers a whole host of rewards for the viewer; with a cast and crew at the top of their game, the movie is honest, reflective, heartfelt, genuinely affecting in places, and a near-perfect example of a simple story told simply and without unnecessary affectation.