The title of writer-director Richard Linklater’s movie refers to a 1980 Van Halen song, one of the band’s most popular. But “some” refers to many things: sex, booze, marijuana, social capital, self-worth. All of the movie’s characters have desire on the brain: they’re college students, hungry for the freedom they’ve dreamed about since they realized, however erroneously, that it might be in reach.
Linklater’s last movie Boyhood was a sprawling, unprecedentedly ambitious fictional document of a young boy’s coming-of-age, conceived and shot over more than a decade to authenticate the depicted passage of years. At first glance, Everybody Wants Some!! looks like a trifle by comparison. It takes place over the course of three days, its cast is largely comprised of unknown actors and it lacks the overt whiff of attempted universality that gave Boyhood its grandeur.
But Everybody Wants Some!! makes sense as a next step in the narrative of Linklater as auteur. He finished telling a story about what it’s like to be a boy; now, he unveils a story about what it was like for him to become a man. He’s called this movie a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, and it’s obvious within the first five minutes what he means. What that movie did for the end of high school, this one does for the beginning of college.
If you look at Everybody Wants Some!! as a movie that reflects your experience in your first few days of college, or everyone’s experience, you’ll likely find the movie wanting. Just as Dazed and Confused stays firmly embedded in the lives of a few high school graduates for a night of revelry, Everybody Wants Some!! never strays from its setting, an unnamed college campus and the surrounding neighborhood. It begins when freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), the new pitcher for the school’s high-profile baseball team, arrives at his new home, a crowded team house in poor condition. It ends a few days later, when Jake sits down for his first class and promptly falls asleep, reflecting on his last few days and our last two hours. In between, Jake meets his teammates, attends a few parties, flirts with a few girls, drinks a lot and smokes a little. Sometimes the camera wanders from Jake to some of his other teammates, whose weeks are going fairly similar to Jake’s, with some different details.
There’s nothing more to say about what happens in Everybody Wants Some!!, except that what happens isn’t really the point. What lingers is the way things happen, what they look like and how they feel: Jake’s dazzling smile, a group sing-along to “Rapper’s Delight,” several beefy mustaches, short shorts, two dynamite sequences set at dance parties, lots of cursing and fighting and yelling, some kissing, a spritz of philosophical musing, a rowdy punk concert, some group improv, one baseball practice.
Everything that works about Everybody Wants Some!! is in the intangibles. Linklater has a knack for assembling casts of attractive young people who nonetheless feel more distinct than typical movie characters, and banter as if they’ve known each other all their lives. (Standouts include Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt as the introspective Willoughby, Glen Powell as the charming Finnegan and J. Quinton Johnson as the smooth Dale, but Linklater modulates the ensemble so that everyone shines.) The soundtrack, comprised entirely of popular music from the 1980s, kicks in sparingly but at exactly the right moments. The period details look precise to a tee, though admittedly I wasn’t born until after the period. The camerawork is fluid but steady and unobtrusive.
My biggest trepidation about the movie going in was that it would be a feature-length version of its abysmal trailers, which emphasize the bro-centric antics and leave out the lived-in feeling of the interactions and relationships. There’s certainly a healthy dosage of toxic masculinity on display here, and perhaps not quite enough exploration of the movie’s women as I would have liked. Dazed and Confused — which, I’ll admit, I saw for the first time a day before seeing its spiritual sequel — does better by its female characters than Everybody Wants Some!!, which has fewer of them and doesn’t develop them into three-dimensional figures the way Dazed does by the end. Everybody Wants Some!! burrows deep into a culture of what we now would call bros and finds pretty much what you’d expect. It might well be subtitled Male Gaze. That’s not an indictment, just an acknowledgement of its limitations as a piece of art designed to capture a certain type of person’s experience. But it does make you wonder what a companion movie from the perspective of some female college students would look like.
That’s not the movie we get, though. Everybody Wants Some!! isn’t interested in representing an abstract group so much as placing a handful of people under a microscope and asking the viewer to draw conclusions. It’s a testament to Linklater’s comfort in this milieu that the movie seems to be dropped, fully formed and lively, out of another decade. Sometimes filmmakers who indulge their personal backstories wind up alienating the uninitiated viewer. Instead, Linklater goes with what he knows and then widens out. The result is a movie that offers a tantalizing glimpse into a corner of the world filled with people who might one day fulfill the potential they spend most of the movie ignoring. And at least one of them, if the movie’s autobiographical origin story is to be believed, will turn into a generous, perceptive, humanistic filmmaker. I’m eager to see what he does next.