Thursday, April 7, 2016

'Everybody Wants Some!!' (2016) Movie Review

A so-called spiritual sequel to 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater’s latest, Everybody Wants Some!! (yes, two exclamation points, like the van Halen song that inspired the title), is admittedly a good deal of fun. That said, that's really all it is. Despite the similar trappings of aimless youth finding themselves in the big wide world—this time at the start of college in 1980 instead of the end of high school in 1976—Everybody Wants Some!! lacks the weight and substance of its predecessor, spiritual or otherwise.

A more apt comparison may actually Linklater’s Oscar-winning Boyhood. Though Everybody Wants Some!! takes a similar approach to defining life—there's not one big moment where everything truly shifts, it's a quiet accumulation of all the little things the pile up—this incarnation doesn't pack the same punch. I get what the Austinite director is going for; as one character says, describing a song, it's all about finding yourself in the space between the notes, in the time between the huge events. While that's a fine idea, like much of the philosophical musings in the film, which at times apes Linklater’s breakout indie classic Slacker, it comes across as an empty platitude.

Everybody Wants Some!! may not bear a direct link to either of the films, but it picks up shortly after both Dazed and Confused and Boyhood leave off, lifecycle wise, right before young people embark on a new phase in their lives: beginning college. Transplanted to 1980, the square-jawed, all-American, small-town hunk, Jake (Glee’s Blake Jenner), joins the baseball team at a Texas university. These are wild, heady times, and these are the kings of campus, living in their own massive off-campus houses, partying every night, banging everything with a pulse, and raising all kinds of hell as the movie borrows tropes and touchstones from similarly themed romps of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Bouncing party to party, Everybody Wants Some!! hits all the cultural markers: a disco, a pop country bar, even a dingy punk show. This is all supposed to show the aimlessness of Jake and his teammates, how even as adult as they feel they’re nothing more than kids playing dress up as they search for who they really are beneath the chameleonic, interchangeable exteriors. This plays like a montage of engaging, entertaining bits, though after a number of these scenes the pace drags and you wonder about the ultimate point of it all.

Jenner is charming and affable, if a touch bland, and the entire team has a fantastic chemistry, populated by the dimwit freshman Plummer (Temple Baker), the whack-job pitcher Jay (Juston Street), the alpha-male pro-prospect McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the metaphysical stoner Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), and more weirdoes, misfits, and hyper-jocks. Their constant riffing on each other is the highlight of the film—competing even when they’re not competing, a point driven home time and again.

As hilarious as the teammates are, however, they’re not asked to provide any weight or substance at all. This is especially true in the case of Finnegan (Glenn Powell), the guy riding the wave that is obviously about to come crashing to shore soon. He’s knows that this is all there is, that this is as good as it will ever get. Well aware that he doesn’t have the chops to play pro ball, he’s just enjoying being the big man on campus while he can, reveling in the last gasp, the last time he’ll be able to get away with anything and everything. There’s a potential for an underlying sadness to his jolly good time party bro exterior, to add some emotional depth and texture, but despite what he says, despite all of his rambling philosophical tangents, there’s nothing more resonant than a dude with a sweet mustache out for a good time. Finnegan could also serve as a metaphor for the setting as well—this was pre-AIDS, pre-sexual harassment lawsuits, among other things, everything was available and there were no consequences—but Everybody Wants Some!!, exclamation points and all, never looks beyond the surface.

Based on many of Linklater’s actual experiences—he played college ball—Everybody Wants Some!! is obviously a story about boys being boys in a time when that was just the way things went. At the same time, however, it neglects its female characters to a fault. In fact, there’s only one that is anything more than a sex object, potential conquest, or eye candy. Beverly (Zoey Deutsch) is the only woman with more than a few lines of flirty dialogue in a bar or at a party, and the only one to rebuff the advances of the jocks, which, or course, instantly causes Jake to go mildly stalker. Deutsch does what she can with what she’s given, and while amiable, Beverly veers towards manic pixie dream girl status—she’s a theater major that dresses like Alice in Wonderland for crying out loud. By the time Linklater finally gets back to building the connection between Jake and Beverly, we’re already at the tail end of the movie, patience stretched thin, and it is too little, too late to deliver. At this stage of his career not only is this shallow portrayal of the time, but it rings inauthentic and Everybody Wants Some!! feels like it’s missing a key piece as a result.

Bouncy, brash, and charming—and with a kickass, genre-spanning soundtrack, of course—Everybody Wants Some!! definitely churns out the good-time party vibes. I enjoyed it, I laughed quite a bit, but I don’t expect that this is a movie I’ll be talking about in a few months; it certainly doesn’t have the staying power of it’s spiritual sibling, Dazed and Confused. Despite the personal flashes Richard Linklater sprinkles throughout, this feels someone trying to write a new version of that film, and though it captures the surface beats, there’s not much meat on the bone. [Grade: B-]

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