The prodigiously productive Richard Linklater now gives us his 18th feature in a career with a few noble failures and a trove of treasures.
“Everybody Wants Some!!” pushes him further into the winner’s circle, and carries us there, too. A warm, meandering salute to South Texas small college life circa 1980, this feels like a comedy based on real life, and one of the most likable chapters in a remarkably affable directing career.
The story is told moment to moment – more like a stone skipping across a pond’s surface than one diving deep. As we follow Jake (Blake Jenner), a friendly freshman pitcher new to the championship baseball team, through his first collegiate weekend, we learn a lot before the school year begins.
The effervescent tone is set about three seconds into the opening, with Jake driving across the school with “My Sharona” pounding top volume from his car’s speakers. The Knack’s hit debut single is the kind of cocky calling card a newcomer would want to announce his arrival. It’s also just the right beat for gawking at the coeds, each and every one of them cuter than a pile of pillows. Our hero learns a lot about anatomy right away.
Jake moves in to a seedy frat-style house with more than a half dozen of his long-haired teammates. It’s more a jock clubhouse than a residence. The upperclassmen hit Jake with a few hazing pranks, lay down the rules of the house and generally make him feel as if he’s walked into the kegger party he has been dreaming about since puberty. This is not exactly an Ivy League curriculum, and some of the smartest players pull some achingly dumb moves.
Yet there’s above average filmmaking brain power at work here. This is a film that achieves very much with very little. Linklater specializes in modestly budgeted stories that focus more on character than plot or spectacle. He has the ability to turn a shaggy dog gag into enduring imagery. When Jake’s new cannabis counsellor Willoughby (Wyett Russell) demonstrates how to inhale a world record bong hit, he wanders off into a stoner soliloquy that actually contains some philosophical wisdom. (Exactly how this undergrad attained such worldly insight is an unspoken question sitting up a surprise twist later.)
Who is really who is a key question here, as the guys don different identities when they shift from cowboy bars to punk halls to discos. While a couple have sort of figured out who they will be as adults, most are trying on new personalities to see what fits. There are no stock characters here, only originals.
There’s a cheery, uplifting tone of life, character and root-for-the-underdog humanity to Linklater’s movies that puts them in a league of their own. His 2014 masterpiece “Boyhood,” 12 years in the filming, was one of the great achievements of 21st century filmmaking. His movies are endearing, never nasty. They almost always make you laugh without a hint of profanity. Has any American director ever made a more charming true-crime murder movie than “Bernie,” a musical featuring one single second of shock value? Or a romantic saga more generous to its characters than his “Before” trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy? Or an 8-to-80 cross-generational gem easier to adore than “School of Rock”?
That’s not to say that this series of party-on vignettes is for everyone. This is all about dudes and their bros and their different-girl-every-night mindset, with possibly one female character of passing importance. But there’s nothing insulting about a movie focused on sexist, goofy guys being guys, so long as it’s consistently entertaining. If you enjoyed the ‘80s, or any college syllabus covering bars, baseball, bull sessions, sex and sleeping through morning classes, this blast from the past is essential viewing.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Rated: R for language throughout, sexual content, drug use, some nudity. Starring: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman. Director: Richard Linklater. Running time: 117 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 9.