Active Ingredients: Fun, convivial vibe; Cast of characters; Subtlety of insights
Side Effects: Loose structure makes for some awkward rhythms
Nobody makes films like Richard Linklater: warm, rambling, laconic, inviting, and just mellow, man. He has a knack for disarming the viewer in the most unassuming way. There’s no showy gimmicks or ostentatious style, just a naturalistic rhythm and a structure that quietly flies in the face of rigid narrative convention.
Case in point is Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater’s “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. It’s a loose ensemble film with no stakes, little incident and even less conflict. It’s about a freshman (Blake Jenner) joining a baseball team in the first few days of college in 1980. He gets to know the guys, goes to some parties, listens to some sweet tunes, meets some girls and muses, with no real sense of urgency or purpose, on the kind of person he wants to become.
Thankfully, there’s no artificial screenwriter-ly tropes to get in the way of all this joyous, relatable hanging out. There’s no Big Game to prep for, no dean-enforced ultimatum to shape up or get evicted. Rather, as with any Linklater film, there’s a keen eye towards the way people act when they’re simply allowed to exist around others, the way they talk and interact, make a connection or fail to do so. Linklater prefers the drama (and the comedy) of real life, and if the characters and situations in Everybody Wants Some!! feels a bit exaggerated, it’s only to support the film’s inflated tone as a period party comedy.
The team is peppered with big personalities—the stoner, the fast talker, the hot head—but by the end of the film we get to know them so specifically that they cease to feel like types. Take one sequence of tension between a new oddball pitcher and the star batter. The pitcher’s competitiveness is played up (successful) for comedy, but the spat is graceful dissolved in a moment of dignity, and in the next scene the pitcher is goofing off with the rest of the team, part of the gang.
Instead of using these personalities for stereotypes or artificial conflict, Linklater uses them to foreground the process of individual becoming unique to college campuses. With no parental supervision and no real responsibilities, these kids are able to try themselves on for size, to begin to define themselves in a new context and with a new group of people. On any given night, the team finds themselves at a disco, a hoe down, a punk show, or a theater party, attempting to blend in with each different crowd. It’s not, as one character says, an act of camouflage, but rather an earnest attempt to see what kind of fun is out there waiting for them.
In the end, there may be a lesson learned for Linklater’s freshman protagonist, but not in the simplistic, moralistic fashion of most coming-of-age films. He’s simply made a connection by being himself. It’s the kind of thing that happens everyday in real life, or, in a Linklater film, a final grace note of tenderness and humility.