Really, Richard Linklater? You’re starting your nostalgia movie about college kids with “My Sharona”? You do know that your pal Ethan Hawke was an accessory to the ruination of that song for a generation in Reality Bites, right?
Okay, okay, maybe you want to reclaim it for the side of good. I’ll go with that… Wait, “Rapper’s Delight” now?
You’re making a point, right? You’re telling the audience upfront that even though this is Texas in 1980, racism is not going to be a factor at all, and you never thought about as a kid, and… Oh hell. You’re doing this. You’re really doing the full-on Wayne’s World “Bohemian Rhapsody” driving group-lip-sync bit with this song. I mean, I guess if I’d never seen any other movies this might be super-amazing, but…
The above is a glimpse into my thought processes in real time as the Austin-based writer-director’s “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused began to unfold before me. But then, gradually, the damnedest thing happened: I started to like it anyway. Maybe it was because he cast Lea Thompson’s daughter Zoey Deutch as a character named Beverly (we’re nerds here and I don’t have to explain why that’s just ducky, right?), or perhaps it was the way two of the main characters are named Finn and Jake. But I don’t think simple points of reference are enough. No, in the end it’s because, as nostalgia-blinded as this movie is, it’s enhanced just enough.
We never veer quite into Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory, but it still feels like your best college memories condensed into three days, and scripted by experts to be as deep and witty and fun as you’d like to remember them…rather than the awkward way it most likely actually happened.
[Side note to any readers who have yet to attend college and plan on it: You will probably not get laid, meet your BFFs, and then find your soulmate with whom you emotionally connect all during the first weekend before classes begin. This is all in fun, so don’t be too disappointed if real life doesn’t quite line up the same way. You should also probably not use the phrase “get laid” out loud any more.]
Dazed and Confused was set on the last day of high school in 1976; Everybody Wants Some!! takes place just before freshman year of college starts in 1980, spotlighting the same generation of kids we met as freshmen in the 1993 film. But these are all new characters, because let’s face it: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, et al, aren’t gonna pass for college kids any more.
At first, the movie seems to fit the Porky’s mold; de facto main character Jake (Blake Jenner) moves into a house strictly for baseball players like himself, all of whom are pursuing the joint goals of getting drunk and having sex. But in Southeast Texas in 1980, the drinking age is 18, so booze isn’t hard to obtain. What with all the bars and clubs accessible to these handsome athletes, available women aren’t either. Intercourse is achieved by all at the first house party, in a montage that ends with one obligatory butt-cheek shot followed by one boob shot, as if Linklater is saying, “Okay, that’s the gratuitous stuff out of the way. Now let me get to what I really want to get to.”
What he really wants to get to, as anyone who has followed the director should know, is conversation. And not just any conversation. Other auteurs might might direct the leads of an 1980-set movie to talk incessantly about how cool it was when they saw The Empire Strikes Back earlier that year. But Linklater is more interested in people developing their philosophies and ways of looking at the world, from the obligatory stoner imagining universal consciousness after encountering Pink Floyd and Carl Sagan for the first time to the baseball player who compares professional sports to the tale of Sisyphus.
There’s no discrimination here between dumb philosophies, smart ones, and insane ones—a good deal of college was, indeed, downtime during which we tried to figure this kind of stuff out in our own ways. And yes, that includes the lunacy of rage case Jay Niles (Juston Street), who might just be this movie’s winner of the McConaughey MVP award. Street looks like David Arquette dressed for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” video and behaves like a character from Reno 911 as he boasts of a 95-miles-per-hour fastball and threatens unholy violence at the slightest provocation.
It’s probably necessary that a movie like this be set in the past. Today, these boys would be justifiably criticized for misogynistic language, and we might wonder where all the non-white, non-male perspectives were. If anything in this “pretty autobiographical” movie strikes you as too problematic, you can always be reassured that the real-life protagonist grew up to be the empathetic guy who made Boyhood.
My college experience at film school in Los Angeles was, on the surface, nothing like what we see in Everybody Wants Some!! And yet, in many ways that matter, it was everything like it. The terribly low-rent and creative-on-a-budget parties, the amateur philosophizing, the stupid jokes, and even, thanks to the milking of nostalgia, some of the same music. The key realism factor that’s lacking is that almost nobody here is ever awkward—they’re figuring things out, but their personalities feel fully formed. That’s not quite true to life, but it is true to a condensed point-of-view looking back.
I do wish the soundtrack had been a little less obvious, but three burritos nonetheless for Everybody Wants Some!! [The movie’s exclamation points, not mine.]