Everybody Wants Some!! Dir. Richard Linklater

[Paramount Pictures; 2016]

Styles: college comedy, hangout film, Richard Linklater
Others: Dazed & Confused, School of Rock, Slacker, Rio Bravo

About a third of the way through Everybody Wants Some!!, Willoughby, the chill, California-bred stoner/pitcher rises to the challenge and casually takes the self-proclaimed largest bong hit in campus history. In most comedies, this anticipation would lead to an outburst of physical humor, be it a coughing fit, vomiting or a cut to him falling over and passing out. In Richard Linklater’s world, he simply takes it down smooth and allows it settle before slowly releasing a billowing cloud of smoke and remarking on the chord progression of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless,” which is playing quietly in the background. He continues pontificating about the importance of the space between the notes as being even more important than the notes themselves, saying it’s all about finding “the tangents within the framework” — a motto that could stand in for nearly all of Linklater’s work and functions as the driving principle behind the director’s most recent, deceptively simple hangout comedy.

Billed as the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed & Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! sets itself up as a stoner/baseball comedy replacing the former’s 1970s high school setting with the 1980s college campus. While the comparisons are just and the similarities are numerous, here Linklater hones in on a single, large group — a highly competitive, nationally ranked college baseball team in Texas — rather than the multiplicity of cliques and fringe groups of outsiders that intermingle throughout his earlier masterpiece. Everybody Wants Some!! also takes on elements of Slacker, in its freeform philosophical digressions and journey through various milieus, and School of Rock, in its egalitarian representation of teamwork. Yet it still comes off as another unique entry in the Linklater canon in its careful balancing of full-on machismo-filled bro-down comedy with more tender scenes of genuine male bonding.

The film begins with Jake (Blake Jenner), freshman pitcher and the protagonist of sorts, showing up at one of the two houses at the edge of campus dedicated to the baseball team. After a few casual introductions, most memorably McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) whose hyper-competitiveness and general dislike of pitchers play out in several of the film’s best scenes, they head out to the bar where we meet most of the other teammates as they drink and bullshit about baseball and women and give each other a hard time. And that’s pretty much it: no plot, no act breaks, just a bunch of dudes hanging out, finding the most inane yet amusing ways of competing with each other until the season and classes are about to begin.

From ping pong to knuckle-flicking, every competition is epic, yet Linklater never allows them to come off as mere juvenile frat boy behavior, instead portraying it as a natural continuation of the cutthroat mentality that is engrained in high-performing athletes as well as actions that, as combative as they may seem, come from a place of vulnerability and desired camaraderie. Surface douchebaggery is redeemed via transformation and even if it is part wish-fulfillment on the part of Linklater, although he’s clearly drawing on his own experiences (he played college baseball in Texas), it is impressive, even important, that he’s taking the time here to humanize and empathize with character types that are nearly always dismissed, sometimes rightfully so of course, as being wholly puerile and insincere. Nearly every college film either celebrates and satirizes the external, but Everybody Wants Some!! peels back those layers of youthful, testosterone-laden exuberance and peeks inside at the inner gears that drive that behavior and derives its humor and emotion from there.

The group dynamic and characters are built quickly and effectively over the course of two nights — the first at the local disco club followed by a country-western bar and the next at a punk show. At the latter, Jake remarks to Finnegan (Glen Powell), the elder statesman and philosophical core of the film, that he feels shallow and disingenuous in adopting a different persona for each venue. Finnegan replies that it’s not shallow but adaptive, a survivalist instinct that helps one to endure the wide array of people, beliefs and environments that one comes across in life and to a greater degree, in college (and it plays equally well in describing Linklater’s own ability to bounce back and forth from serious dramas to broad comedies). In this scene, Linklater reveals his approach to his characters, born from an underlying sweetness in taking these typical alpha male fraternity types who should be instantly dislikable and portraying them in the least judgmental way imaginable, their chameleonesque tendencies not predatory or manipulative, but earnest, good-hearted attempts to get that titular (not-entirely-sexual) “Some!!” He eases even the most suspect viewers into this familiar setting and era, almost baiting us with scenarios we’ve seen hundreds of time before, but infuses them with a pathos that prevents them from ever feeling obnoxious or pandering.

Like Dazed & Confused, there is a loose sense of realism that ties everything together through the naturalistic passage of time, the organic chemistry of the ensemble cast and the seamless ways Linklater integrates visual and aural cues of the era without screaming “early 80s”! Of course, there are some concessions made, including the requisite T&A that I imagine some Paramount exec demanded, but for a film that is almost all tangents with little regard to the framework, they are a small price to pay. The casual approach to structure, of the film and its internal world, and the absence of large plot contrivances or broad comedic punchlines allows Everybody Wants Some!! to smoothly weave its way from the drunken hijinks of the de facto frat houses or local bars to the performance art majors’ costume party to the dugout and ballfield where the solidarity accumulated over days of verbal jousting and physical competition will, most likely, manifest itself in the form a united and ultimately great team. After all, these knuckleheads are not just frat boys on the prowl for pussy, but among the best of the best at the amateur level of their sport, yet Linklater wisely offers only glimpses of the true athletic talent (slicing a tossed baseball with an axe, per se) and focuses mostly on the emotional-via-physical bonding of the team.

Towards the end of the film, Jake tells the girl he’s been chasing about his college entrance essay on Sisyphus and baseball. After wondering how he tied the two together, Jake replies that the gods have actually done Sisyphus a favor in giving him an eternal task, interpreting the rolling the boulder as meaningful in and of itself. For Jake, baseball is a means to an end, an action or activity that in itself creates meaning. Perhaps Linklater sees all of his ballplayers in Everybody Wants Some!! as stand-ins for Sisyphus, existing to play ball and playing ball to exist, but the twist is we see how Sisyphus lives in those brief stretches of time between watching the boulder roll down the hill and when he starts rolling it back up again. In doing so, we ironically take part in Linklater’s own boulder-rolling process and witness how he himself ascribes meaning to his characters and those who could have been and likely would have been throwaway or one-off characters in the hands of another director. Even if Everybody Wants Some!! isn’t first-tier Linklater, who else but he would draw the link between determinism and baseball and do so in such a gleefully easygoing and wildly entertaining manner.

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