Richard Linklater’s newest project is a throwback in a way, but it’s not the 80’s nostalgia piece that has been advertised. Unless your image of a whole decade can be summed up by a moving-in montage set to “My Sharona” this portrayal of a time period will fail to deliver. This is really a film that demonstrates nostalgia for 80’s films, not the 80’s themselves. From Animal House to Revenge of the Nerds, Porky’s to American Pie, Everybody Wants Some!! is a misguided love song to a genre that has otherwise become basically obsolete—the college sex movie. This is an unapologetically white college movie about macho jocks trying to score with the ladies, and it’s about as outdated as it sounds. Haven’t we moved past the concept of the token black guy? Isn’t the simplistic portrayal of college as a place where men go to get laid a little old fashioned?
Director: Richard Linklater
Producers: Megan Ellison, Richard Linklater, Ginger Sledge
Writer: Richard Linklater
Cinematographer: Shane F. Kelly
Editor: Sandra Adair
Cast: Blake Jenner, Justin Street, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Zoey Deutch, Sophia Taylor Ali
Premiere: March 11, 2016 – SXSW
US Theatrical Release: March 30, 2016
US Distributor: Paramount Pictures
The film follows Jake (Blake Jenner), a college freshman joining a powerhouse division one baseball team and being inducted into the small club of big men on campus. Hazing, partying, learning to get along with his teammates, and trying to get laid are Jake’s primary activities over the film’s two hours. Pranks and party tricks are in evidence, as is macho competition and what Jake affectionately refers to as “fuck with-ery,” but generally the goal of getting laid is omnipresent. The crew goes to various clubs and parties trying to put the moves on women. From a disco to a country bar, a punk show to a theatre party, these men are willing to pretend to be anyone and have any (fake) interest all in order of tricking women to sleep with them. It all feels juvenile and emotionally immature and gives off a strong whiff of rape culture.
Maybe this is a realistic portrayal—I didn’t go to college in the early 80’s and Linklater not only did that but he played college baseball (before dropping out to work on an oil rig). You’d think that real life experience would lend him a level of verisimilitude like it did for Dazed and Confused, a film based on his life as a high schooler in a small town outside of Houston. But where Dazed and Confused was Linklater the screenwriter at his best, Everybodoy Wants Some!! demonstrates his worst habits, feeling like a parody of his high school masterpiece. Dazed and Confused treats every character as a complete human with a deep internal life waiting to be plumbed—from stoner to nerd, jock to burnout, the cast is filled out with rich, emotionally whole characters all vying for their place in the social hierarchy of a Texas high school. Everybody Wants Some!! focuses so tightly on its protagonist’s core of baseball friends that other characters become little more than silhouettes.
Women are primarily at this college (the script seems to say) to be targets for the baseball team’s seduction. Minor male characters are parodied or derided—from the stoner to the pitcher who is on the Asperger’s Spectrum, the doofus to the yokel, less significant characters really only exist in relation to Jake. Even Beverly, Jake’s romantic opposite, is portrayed as little more than a stereotypical theatre kid. Her biggest chance to shine is during a mock dating show where she plays Alice in Wonderland interviewing her mystery suitors The Queen of Hearts, The Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit. But her lines are so bland (and the concept so unoriginal) that the biggest chance to see her as a whole person falls flat. She remains primarily a romantic opposite to our hunky lead—a stereotype of “the kind of girl a jock might date in college” rather than a whole and interesting person.
That isn’t to say the film lacks all artistry. Despite the concept, Linklater is still one of the most talented filmmakers we’ve got, and his auteurial flourishes shine in an otherwise underwhelming film. A sweeping long take through the backyard of the baseball house is stunningly choreographed, and a few shots of the team’s star player slicing a baseball in half with an axe swung like a baseball bat are mesmerizing in a Mythbusters kind of way. The cast is great and made up of mostly unknowns, just like Dazed and Confused was. The narrative structuring of the film is also interesting—intertitles count down the hours until the first day of classes making this film’s timeline outrageously short when set against Linklater’s previous work, Boyhood. But all the direction in the world couldn’t make much out of this script, and as a follow-up to Boyhood, this film fails to impress in almost every way. Lump this one in with Waking Life and Tape as lesser Linklater—interesting in its way but too flawed to be considered good.
I’m still trying to understand why this film has been so uniformly lauded by critics and am left to assume it has something to do with nostalgia. I wasn’t alive for most of the 80’s so the effects of this BuzzFeed-inspired era-based marketing may be wasted on me. But just like those BuzzFeed lists, this film’s connection to an era feels superficial at best and commercially manipulative at worst. Less than a remake of Dazed and Confused this is the remake of Animal House that nobody asked for.