AUSTIN, TX: Early in Richard Linklater’s SXSW Film Festival opener Everybody Wants Some!!, not long after freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) has arrived at college on the last weekend of summer, his newly acquainted baseball teammates take him for a drive. The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” is on the radio, and all five guys — four white, one black — know every rapid-fire rhyme, so they rap along with the track as they cruise around in their car. They trade verses and lines, sometimes all together, sometimes taking turns, and Linklater stays with them for a good couple of verses — longer than he has to, even if this were a scene that moved the film’s (meager) plot forward (which it doesn’t). You just get the sense that he enjoyed the scene too much to cut away any sooner than that, and knew his audience would feel the same. And he was right; when the scene ended, this crowd applauded.
“It is such a thrill to be opening night film at SXSW,” he told that crowd before the picture rolled. “I’ve had a lot of films show here over the years, but I realized I’ve never been opening night — they always show like a big comedy opening night. I’m happy to have made one that qualifies!” And he’s right. Much has been made of Everybody Wants Some!! being a “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s 1993 classic Dazed and Confused, presumably due to its period trappings (it’s set in the summer of 1980), school setting (college rather than high school), and compressed timeframe. (There’s even another Gilligan’s Island reference.) But more than any of those surface connections, the two films share a vibe, an approach, which is shaggy, giggly, and loose-limbed. They’re both hangout movies, in the best possible sense.
Linklater’s avatar is Jake, who arrives at the fictional Southeast Texas University three days and change before his first class, a baseball scholarship student who’s been placed in one of the two “baseball houses” just off campus. Their coach tells them there are two rules for the house: No alcohol, and no girls in the bedrooms. Over the course of that weekend, they break both of those rules as often as possible.
It takes a bit of time to lock in to these characters; they are jocks, and some of us have a built-in aversion, and they’re not always likable either way. But they feel authentic. The more we get to know them — wide-eyed Jake, verbose faux-philospher Finn (Glen Powell, an ace scene-stealer), stoner Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), and overly intense Jay (Juston Street), who’s like Michael Showalter playing a Mike Judge character — the more we come to appreciate their charms and the playfulness of their interactions. Like Dazed, it’s a cast of unknowns who will probably get known; some of them weren’t even actors. “Casting this movie, they’re all athletes,” Linklater explained in the post-screening Q&A. “Some of them didn’t play baseball, but I was looking for that kind of swagger that you get with the young, entitled athlete. And every one of ’em has that.”
Linklater compliments his ensemble with a sure, confident directorial hand, throwing in occasional, effective flourishes (a morning-after damage survey of their house, a tracking shot of the hose being used to inflate an ill-advised second-floor waterbed). And his music choices are again impeccable. He’s using the big hits, sure, but it makes sense — they became big hits because everyone was listening to them, so he impresses us not with his crate-digging obscurities, but with the material and moments he pairs those songs to. It’s a film with a lot of music, and to an important end: in their attempt to make a scene (and make it with girls), the guys on the team end up almost taking a tour through popular music circa 1980. They go to a disco, and cut a rug to funk and soul hits; when that goes south, they go for a quick “wardrobe change” and end up at an Urban Cowboy-style honkytonk bar, dancing to “Cotton-Eyed Joe”; a visit to Jake’s townie friend lands them at a hardcore punk show; they follow Jake to a party full of theater kids (the girl he likes is a performing arts major), where the costumes and settings are elaborate, and everyone dances to “Pop Muzik.”
Sizing up their scene-hopping, Jake asks Finn if there’s a real concern about “who we are,” to which Finn replies, “It’s not phony, it’s adaptive.” And that’s a quality of college life that we too often forget, and rarely bother to bring with us: that “sure, whatever” openness of being that age and being up for anything. “I told the guys, as they were asking about the music: You would never admit to liking disco,” Linklater explained. “You’d probably have a T-shirt that says DISCO SUCKS. But you would go there, chasing ladies and to go there socially. You just wouldn’t admit to liking much of it. But you were there, and that’s what college felt like to me.”
It’s a lovely notion — and also, accidentally, a thesis statement for a movie that doesn’t really have one otherwise. There are no big revelations or dramatic arcs — in fact, as with Linklater’s Boyhood, there are occasionally scenes where you realize you’re bracing for big turns he isn’t going to take. It’s just a bunch of guys, drinking, girl-watching, shooting the shit, busting balls, yet forming bonds and testing boundaries and starting to figure out who they are, and you’re there, and this is what college felt like to him.
Everybody Wants Some!! is out April 1st in limited release, and will open wider over the following two weeks.