Now that Boyhood finally made the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences acknowledge that Richard Linklater exists, the filmmaker is back to his old familiar grounds with yet another largely plotless ensemble comedy about young people. My gut instinct is that Everybody Wants Some!!, which expands from Dallas into Tarrant County this weekend, is not quite as good as the similar period coming-of-age flick Adventureland, but it is really gosh-darned charming. If you weren’t old enough to catch Slacker or Dazed and Confused when they came out, here’s a perfectly good comedy in the same vein for right now.
We begin with Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) pulling into the parking lot of the fictitious Southeast Texas State University in August 1980, ready to start his freshman year on a baseball scholarship. The rest of the movie takes place in the three days leading up to his first class, as Jake gets hazed in “voluntary” (i.e. mandatory) practices, gets to know his teammates with whom he shares a house, and catches the eye of a theater student named Beverly (Zoey Deutch) who introduces him to a world outside the jock circles he usually travels in.
Jake may be a freshman, but he’s not callow. Early on we see him taking a car ride with his new teammates and impressing them by knowing the words to “Rapper’s Delight,” and when he starts getting flak from the guys because Beverly expresses interest in him (mostly as a way to shoot down the jocks who are hitting on her), Jake is smart enough to know that the guys are motivated by jealousy and ballsy enough to call them out on it. You may have seen Jenner portraying an obnoxious gay rival on TV’s Glee, but here he’s softly appealing as an athlete who can see outside his teammates’ insane competitiveness, and he pairs well with the sprightly Deutch, especially in a late scene where they go tubing on the river at sunrise and talk about what they want out of life.
Linklater is good with the male bonding stuff as always, and he captures the atmosphere in the baseball house as the ballplayers hold unending competitions in basketball, foosball, and darts. Of course, there’s always the one guy who’s too competitive for his own good, and here he’s a bespectacled pitcher (Juston Street) who won’t shut up about his high-90s fastball and pro prospects and who almost starts a brawl when he gives up a home run in practice. Jake’s roommate is a thickly accented farm kid (Will Brittain) whom the others nickname “Beuter Perkins” because it’s the most hayseed-like name they can think of, and the relentless hazing that he’s subjected to is depicted without any judgment. Linklater, with his customary taste in music, sets it all to period-appropriate songs — it may be the 1980s, but disco remains alive and well in this corner of Texas.
I could have done with a big comic set piece to serve as a highlight, like Linklater had with Jack Black’s classroom riffs in School of Rock. Then again, Linklater has never been Judd Apatow, nor should he try to be. He does include a subplot involving Wyatt Russell as a stoner teammate from California who’s harboring a secret that everyone thinks is hilarious when it comes out. When they get older, they’ll realize how sad it is. This serves as a subtle counterpoint to the general lightheartedness. Everybody Wants Some!! strikes an easy, kick-back-and-open-a-beer tone that disguises how brimming it is with vitality. While his contemporary Cameron Crowe has lost touch with the youth and fallen into deep decline, Linklater still knows how to depict the young person’s quest to find his or her own purpose in the world, a meaning beyond themselves, and communion with another human soul. This is why he remains a treasure of American cinema.
[box_info]Everybody Wants Some!!
Starring Blake Jenner and Zoey Deutch. Written and directed by Richard Linklater. Rated R.[/box_info]