Tuesday, April 12, 2016

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! Brilliantly Captures What it is to be Young and Free and Ready to Party


- Richard Linklater is one of our greatest filmmakers because he so expertly captures moments that are small, yet in their own way, monumental. Boyhood was, perhaps, his masterpiece - an epic yet intimate look at one boy's journey across the years. But EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (which, in its official title, includes double exclamation points) goes back to the days of Linklater's breakout Dazed & Confused - instead of taking place over a sprawling timeline, it's a hyper-focused look at a single weekend. The movie looks at a perfectly-crystalized moment in time: 1980, Texas, the first weekend of arrival at college and the last weekend before class starts. A moment of parties, rock n' roll, identity crisis, and total - blissful! - freedom. A time when the 'staches were unironic, the shorts were short, and kids were free to be kids. It's the last weekend of summer and the first weekend of the rest of these characters' lives. And yet ... this often hilarious (but surprisingly poignant) pre-college party film has more in common with a movie like Boyhood than you might think. Because like Boyhood - and like so much of the Linklater filmography - EVERYBODY WANTS SOME is, really, about how small moments shape us and make us who we are. And nobody captures those moments like Linklater.

The movie sort of drops you into this world makes you feel less so like you're watching a movie, and more like you're hanging out with these characters for two hours. It helps that the characters here are so great. Some we feel like we know well. Some we feel like we only get a sense for. But they are all defined and shaped in the way that real people you've just met might be. They are all, every one, distinct and memorable. Jake is our entry-point character - and, as played by Blake Jenner, he's a classic Linklater protagonist. Jake was a standout high school baseball player who's now finds himself one of several rookies on a college team with championship hopes. The team members live together in an off-campus house provided by the school - a ramshackle party pad where girls are supposedly banned from being present upstairs, but where many girls will spend a lot of time upstairs. The team is a mix of colorful characters - they may all be baseball players, but the group is an eclectic mix of swaggering jocks, philosophical stoners, would-be ladies men, awkward dorks, dorky rednecks, and the prerequisite might-be-a-psycho loose cannon.

Jake, meanwhile, is a natural talent, but he's also quiet and introspective, a music collector, and a bit of a chameleon. Throughout the film, Jake is the catalyst that guides his less-adaptable baseball teammates into all kinds of corners of the 1980 college scene. We see Jake and his new pals go to a punk rock concert, a theater-kid party (after Jake falls for an aspiring actress), a disco, and a cowboy bar. So yes, this is a movie about baseball players. But it's also a movie about the universal college experience - trying out different scenes, figuring out where you fit in and where you don't. Beverly, the theater major who Jake falls for (played, in a great performance, by Zoey Deutch) is essentially living in her own movie running parallel to Jake's. She's new at school, coming from a place where she was the star of school plays, now thrown in with a bunch of others who were, each of them, the stars of *their* school plays. It's a testament to how naturally fleshed-out Linklater's world feels that you could easily imagine, at any point, his cameras shifting focus to Beverly - with a whole new movie growing organically out of this one. But that's the magic of EVERYBODY WANTS SOME. It's a very specific story that is also incredibly universal.

The cast here is mostly unknowns. But just as the cast of Dazed and Confused turned out to be made up of future stars, there is that some sort of potential here. Every actor brings something a little different to the table, and they all do a remarkably great job of playing to Linklater's naturalistic style. Blake Jenner is very good as Jake, but he's also sort of the POV character - so it's the others who get the really weird/funny/standout moments. The best, I think, is Glenn Powell - who was hilarious on the series Scream Queens. We all know a guy like his character, Finnegan - a smart-mouthed amateur philosopher who freely dispenses sage advice on everything from college clique pecking orders to the best (often highly out-of-the-box) ways to pick up women. Of course, the all-knowing Finnegan is, in his own way, as confused and clueless as everyone else. Another standout is Wyatt Russell - who is really becoming a great comic actor. Here, he plays Willoughby - the quintessential stoner hippie - a California-raised zen-guru whose preternatural calm is a marked contrast to the unchecked male aggression of many of his teammates. There's also a great twist around his character that I won't spoil here - except to say that, ultimately, he becomes sort of the living embodiment of everything this movie is about. I know - heavy stuff, man.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME is often uproariously funny. It's you-are-there authenticity only makes some of the characters that much funnier. Even the broader characters - like Coma, a man-beast prone to rage-filled outbursts - feel like guys we've all seen before. Certainly, they feel like guys Linklater has seen before. The director seems to be mining his own memories of college (he also played college baseball) and of this particular time and place - to great effect. He really captures the way that these guys hang out, goof off, and shoot the $%&#. In general, Linklater captures an essential guy-ness - showing guys being guys in a way that both extols the fun of being a young dude in your prime and also gently critiques how maleness can be toxic when it goes too far. A lot of what Jake and his teammates discover is the line between being cool and being a jerk. And so, while this is a funny and very fun look at the halcyon days of college - set in a nostalgia-tinged, pre-internet era of sex and rock n' roll - there is also a subtext here about how, even in this carefree, responsibility-free environment, these boys are starting to learn what it means to be men.

Make no mistake, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME is a great - maybe even essential - college movie and party movie. Seeing it will make you want to go grab a posse and find a party to crash. But what separates this from your average bro-friendly college comedy are the many layers that Linklater's ever-observant eye adds to the film. It's nostalgia tinged with sadness, celebration tinged with regret. It's a look at what it means to be young and free, but also what it means to be an adult who evolves and adapts and becomes more accepting and empathetic of others. This is a movie about universal experience - and it's an oddly hopeful one. It is, in some ways, about these various tribes coming together - the athletes, the punks, the stoners, the drama kids - and creating this melting pot of people who - surprise! - share common worries and wants and dreams. It's all pretty utopian actually - but EVERYBODY WANTS SOME captures a certain sense of us all being in this together - even as it hits us with dick jokes and pratfalls. Not many directors could pull something like that off, but Linklater makes it seem effortless.

My Grade: A-

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