***1/2 out of ****
for strong language throughout, sexual content, drug use and some nudity
Released: April 15, 2016; April 22 expands.
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, J. Quinton Johnson, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Temple Baker, Juston Street, Zoey Deutch
Leave it to Richard Linklater – the indie Austin filmmaker who’s always pursued his own personal, low-key muse – to follow up the movie that brought him this close to winning an Academy Award with a film that’s about the farthest thing from it. Boyhood was an intimate, in-depth dramatic portrait about growing up. Everybody Wants Some!! is a raunchy comedy about young men who want to put off growing up for as long as humanly possible.
But for as loose, raucous, and carefree as this movie is, it’s not in Linklater’s DNA to make something that’s mindless. He’s too keen an observer of life and its nuances, and too anthropologically fascinated with people (and, possibly, with the person he used to be) to spin his wheels with escalating pranks and scatological humor. Well, not just with those things.
There’s plenty of Animal House in this movie’s spirit, which is comprised almost entirely of testosterone, but rather than trying to fuel his comedy on outrageous contrivances (vis-à-vis crude and violent shock gags popularized by the likes of Seth Rogen and Melissa McCarthy, et al), Linklater keeps it all grounded in things we recognize, even across generations. Most comedies try to provoke gasps of “Oh man, can you believe they just did that?!”, but Everybody Wants Some!! provokes the belly laughs of “Oh man, remember when we did stuff like that?!” (Well, guys anyway.)
Though billed by Linklater as a “spiritual” cousin to Dazed and Confused (his late 70s high school party comedy), Everybody Wants Some!! is predominantly obsessed with the carnal. This college life nostalgia trip immediately establishes its early 80s setting with “My Sharona” blasting away as Jake (Blake Jenner, TV’s Glee), a freshman, arrives at a fictional south Texas campus. He’s there on a baseball scholarship, and we’re quickly introduced to Jake’s teammates one-by-one at the school-sponsored team house. From there, it’s two hours of dorm life/frat life culture that encompasses the entirety of the college experience except for academics.
Parties. Hook-ups. Hazing. Video games. Discos. Local bars with local bands. Pool and cards. Fooseball, ping pong, and Nerf hoops. Weed tokes and bong hits. Talking music and talking crap. Turning every activity into a competition, all while relentlessly giving each other a hard time (but with far more vulgar terms than that). You can virtually smell the cheap beer wafting off the screen.
Full disclosure: as a guy who attended a conservative Christian university, my friends and I did maybe half of what these jocks do here (although our baseball team probably had a much closer batting average). But the specifics are secondary to the spirit, which is universal to the tribal mentality of post-adolescent American males everywhere.
On the surface these teammates fit stock roles, but they’re portrayed with too much specificity – and with boundless charisma across the board of this no-name cast – to be reduced to archetypes (well, except for Juston Street’s crazed pitcher; his gonzo approach is brilliantly scaled). Each and every one is having an absolute blast but, even so, they don’t play the comedy (even when playing it broadly). They all play it absolutely straight. That commitment makes it hilarious, and that conviction makes it resonate.
Their natural free-flowing conversations, while often juvenile, cumulatively cover a lot more territory than you initially realize, particularly those involving Glen Powell’s senior team leader Finnegan. His mix of brash masculinity and smooth womanizing with a complex intellect and philosophical bent is likely Linklater’s “if I knew then what I know now” idealized surrogate.
Frat comedies like Neighbors play off of familiar experiences, but Everybody Wants Some!! actually captures them. It won’t result in more Oscar love for Linklater, but it’s likely to earn a spot on more than a few year-end Top 10 lists (some Gen-X film critics simply won’t be able to resist). This is as audacious as it is character-based, with ruminations that creep up on you.
It’d be a step too far to brand it the Thinking Man’s Animal House (and probably more of a dig than a compliment, besides), but Everybody Wants Some!! is yet another example of why Richard Linklater is cinema’s greatest “slice of life” auteur.