Legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks’ definition of what makes a “good movie” was pretty simple: “Three great scenes, no bad ones.” By that definition, director Richard Linklater’s new movie, Everybody Wants Some, comes close. There are no bad scenes, but by my count there are only two great ones. Linklater himself has been quoted as saying the movie is a “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 near-classic* film Dazed and Confused, so it’s instructive to compare the two.
Everybody Wants Some doesn’t reach the dizzying highs of its predecessor because of its focus. If you aren’t familiar with Dazed and Confused, that picture’s core was an ensemble of misfits and oddballs on the last day of school in May 1976. (Or, to use the parlance of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s seminal television show that Linklater’s movie likely inspired, the freaks and geeks entering their first or last years of high school.) Junior-high student and baseball pitcher Mitch was the audience surrogate in that film. He was tormented over the course of the movie by some of the newly minted seniors who relished the opportunity to haze the incoming freshmen using a giant paddle. Ben Affleck played the most assholish of this group, O’Bannion, and it’s particularly satisfying when he gets his comeuppance.
I bring up that group of jerks because their college counterparts are at the center of Everybody Wants Some. Their edges have been softened considerably, but these college jocks act like masters of their universe, because they are. Their preoccupations are what you’d expect them to be, the three B’s: baseball, beer, and bangin’, not necessarily in that order. Because that’s who and what the movie devotes its time to, there is an emotional resonance that is conspicuously missing, particularly when compared to Dazed and Confused.
The audience surrogate this time is freshman baseball pitcher Jake, and the time is three days before the first day of class in 1980. Jake is entering an exciting new world, college, where wild times promise to come quicker than a well-delivered fastball. The school has given the team a ramshackle old house to use as a dormitory, which comes with stipulations – no alcohol in the house and no girls upstairs. The coach’s speech announcing the house rules isn’t delivered with enough conviction to convince himself, let alone his players.
Still, Coach doesn’t want the season ruined by “some piece of poon tang.” That line, delivered early in Everybody Wants Some, is a signal that all P.C. bets are off. This was a simpler time, the movie intimates, when boys could be boys without worrying who it would offend. So a little later, when the upperclassmen of the team introduce Jake and his freshman teammate to a local college bar – the legal drinking age wasn’t raised to 21 until 1986 – you get lines like, “This isn’t high school anymore, boys. That’s college pussy coming your way.”
Just like with drinking, and most other things in life for that matter, these kinds of moments are fine in moderation. These are young college guys, after all, and the girls on campus are presumably just as ramped up on hormones and first time freedom. Where the movie falls short is that the characters’ sex drives make up 90% of the focus of the movie. There is a noticeable lack of the stimulating dialog for which Linklater’s films are famous, from Dazed and Confused and Waking Life to his Before trilogy. Also missing are the diverse points of view that made Dazed so iconic. There is no counterpart to Randall “Pink” Floyd, the football player who questions authority, and wonders aloud if the price of his individuality is worth being on the team at all. There is no Mike, the high-strung intellectual who pontificates on the meaningless of life, and who just “wants to dance!”
Everybody Wants Some is definitely a movie for and by guys, about a particular male college experience. As such, there is only one female character with a substantial speaking part, and she’s only present in three or four scenes. Her name is Beverly, she’s a performing arts major, and Jake falls head over heels for her. They share one of the two great scenes I mentioned earlier. The theatre clique she belongs to throws a party, and Beverly invites Jake, who brings the rest of his teammates at their insistence. After the party, just hours before classes start, the fledgling lovebirds talk about what they hope to achieve while in college, and their all consuming passion, his for baseball and hers for the theatre. This is the sequence that gets closest to matching the wistful tone that permeates Dazed and Confused.
The other great scene is an example of the hilarious drug induced philosophizing that Linklater is an expert at cultivating. The teammates are hanging out in one of their bedrooms, trying to break the non-existent record for biggest bowl of “oregano” ever smoked with one inhale. Willoughby, the character who most closely resembles the stoner Slater from Dazed, holds court on all manner of things from the meaning of the spaces between the notes in Rock-n-Roll music, to the possibilities of telepathy. Playing in the background to all of this is the song Fearless, a somewhat deep cut from Pink Floyd’s album Meddle. This scene is pure magic. It probably helps that I’m a huge Floyd fan, particularly of that song, and these kinds of scenes in movies always put a smile on my face.
Moments like the ones described above showcase the effervescence that runs throughout Everybody Wants Some. It’s very much a movie about the intoxication of youth, when possibilities seem endless. At the theatre groups’ party, after a rather amusing and extended sequence showing the team’s first practice, the boys are dressed down by Finnegan, one of the baseball squad’s upperclassmen, for never having their head in the right place at the right time. “Whenever we’re playing baseball, all you can talk about is pussy,” Finnegan says. “Now that we’re surrounded by girls, all you want to do is talk baseball.”
Ironically, that’s the very issue that holds the movie back from transcending into something Howard Hawks could truly appreciate. If Linklater had been able to get out of the twin ruts that so fascinate his young protagonists a little more often, Everybody Wants Some might be able to lay claim to classic status by 2041.** As it is, the movie does succeed at capturing the essence of a certain place and time, like Dazed and Confused, even if it’s not quite on that film’s spiritual level.
*Because of the ridiculousness of marketing teams calling their own movies “classics” mere months after the theatrical release, in order to ramp up home video sales, I’ve adopted the completely arbitrary time frame of 25 years for a movie to obtain “classic” status. The defining factor of what makes any piece of art a classic is its ability to stand the test of time. A quarter of a century seems like a pretty good measure of that, at least in our current short-attention-span addled culture. Therefore, Dazed and Confused is just two years shy of my arbitrary qualification for classic status.
**That’s 25 years from now, in case you were confused.
Why it got 3.5 stars:
- It's a good time, and I left the theater in a delightfully upbeat mood, but Everybody Wants Some does feel slight. It may not be entirely fair to compare it to Dazed and Confused as much as I did, but it's almost impossible not to do so.
- If all you're interested in is a breezy fun couple of hours, though, Everybody Wants Some is hard to beat.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- I said in the review that there are no bad scenes. That's true, but there are a few scenes that aren't very funny. A scene where one of the guys gets in a fight with a bartender tries a little too hard. But, even if some of the comedy is a little forced, it's all still, at the very least, amusing.
- The biggest weakness of the movie is that you never really get much of a sense of who these guys are. The characters all lean pretty heavily on broad stereotype.