Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! can be seen as a spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused or even a continuation of Boyhood. Like Dazed and Confused, the film is about someone starting school, only this time it’s a college freshman in the 1980’s rather than a high school freshman in the 70’s. Jake (Blake Jenner) plays the main character moving into the off-campus house exclusively for members of the baseball team and the movie shows the events that take place during the 3 days before school begins. Like most of Linklater’s films, there is no clear plot. Instead, the camera moves along with the characters as they go about their lives.
Linklater is known for producing naturalist performances. Each character feels believable but unfortunately not often likable. The director’s favorite archetype has always been the outsider artist who spends his time philosophizing about their true purpose in life, but most of the characters here don’t fit into that mold. All of the leads are Jake’s baseball teammates and their hyper-competitive nature turns their home into a fraternity house of concentrated testosterone. Many of the actors appear conspicuously old and there is even a Matthew Mcconaughey look-alike spouting lines similar to his famous role in Dazed and Confused. Actually, almost all of Jake’s teammates are mostly repulsive versions of that character. Predatory, egotistical, and creepy. The characters, though well realized, are shallow and their dialogue quickly devolves into what some may call “guy talk”. By that i mean each conversation is either about one-upping each other or objectifying women. The rest of their time is spent playing juvenile pranks on each other that, while occasionally funny, do nothing to grow the characters.
The period is well realized. It’s clear that Linklater knows this era (he was about the age of the characters during this time) and has lovingly reproduced it. The call-outs to Space Invaders, pinball, and vinyl records are appreciated but overabundant. The camera unnecessarily lingers too often on the titles of games, TV, or movies, overeager to mine nostalgia. The music is used similarly. Linklater has a great ear and assembled a soundtrack out of the best of the 80’s featuring The Knack, Blondie, and a particularly hilarious moment when the characters sing along to Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang. The only downside is that when the music – and the energy it brings – are missing, the scenes are are noticeably lacking. Its absence exposes a lack of compelling characters.
Despite these flaws it’s hard to fault the technical aspects of the film. The story, while aimless, is well paced and is never boring. When Linklater does finally choose to add depth to Blake’s teammates, they quickly show potentially redeeming qualities. It’s a shame that these instances are rare amidst their standard superficial pursuits. Linklater has never been a filmmaker to manipulate his characters. His camera observes rather than judges and in this way he has achieved his goal. He’s accurately and affectionately portrayed the characters that he was interested in. Unfortunately, to the rest of us these characters are more often grating than appealing and Linklater’s craft can’t overcome that hurdle.