Having finally achieved, with the remarkable “Boyhood,” the sort of complete respectability among industry bigwigs that had long seemed just beyond his grasp—given not only his outsider status but his freewheeling style—Richard Linklater follows up the Oscar nominee with a deliriously gleeful throwback to his surprise 1993 hit “Dazed and Confused,” the cult classic about a bunch of kids celebrating the last day of high school in 1976. “Everybody Wants Some!!” (a title taken from a Van Halen song) is about a bunch of college guys—the school’s baseball team—enjoying themselves in the days before the opening of the fall semester in 1980. It embraces the same deceptively free-form approach of its nearly quarter-old predecessor while simultaneously acting as a follow-up to the writer-director’s last film, which ended with its youthful protagonist beginning his college career.
The freshman in this case, however, isn’t the thoughtful, artistically-inclined Mason of “Boyhood” but Jake (Blake Jenner), a star high school pitcher whom we meet driving onto the campus of the non-existent Southeastern Texas State University and winding up at one of the two houses assigned to the players. It’s a ramshackle place, and Jake isn’t exactly lucky in his roommate Billy Autry (Will Brittain), a stickler for following the rules who’s devoted to his girlfriend back home and doesn’t want their room used for improper purposes.
But that doesn’t matter much, as there are plenty of other guys to pal around with: not just fellow frosh players like Plummer (Temple Baker), who’s usually a split second behind a joke, and blissfully docile Brumley (Tanner Kalina), but upper-classmen Finnegan (Glenn Powell, looking like a relative of Matthew McConaughey), who’s free with sometimes-serious advice, Roper (Ryan Guzman), who takes the new guys on a tour of campus to check out the girls, and hyper-competitive hothead McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin). No less notable are Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), an exuberant fellow who happens to be the only black in the group, Nesbit (Austin Amelio), a reedy, mustachioed guy who has a gift of gab and loves to bet on stuff, and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a hippie type from California who drops nuggets of New Age wisdom but proves to be something other than he seems. The only major irritant is Niles (Juston Street), an arrogant transfer whose bragging rubs everyone the wrong way. But in the end the others prove more tolerant even of his quirks than you might expect, and Autry turns out to have a soft side, too.
One would search in vain for much plot in “Everybody Wants Some!!” For a good deal of the film the guys just amble about from bar to bar and party to party, the varied locales acting as little more than invitations for more genial conversation and the insertion of examples of the various pop music genres of the period that Linklater has carefully chosen to spotlight on the soundtrack. There are occasional moments of “drama”—a brief barroom brawl, for instance—but overall the attitude is one of bemused, if casually sexist, joviality.
Prospective romance, however, does enter the equation for Jake in the person of Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a drama major who invites him to a party filled with her artsy friends and even induces him to assume a role in one of the evening’s theatrical skits. Some of the guys tag along as well, showing that they’re willing to go to unaccustomed places in pursuit of fun and girls; and a few of them actually score in the process. The movie doesn’t lead up to any big revelations: the guys do take to the field for the first time in an “unofficial” practice—the beginning of their jelling as a team—and things close with the first day of classes, when some of them stumble to their seats as exhausted, dazed and confused as one would expect of anyone suffering the effects of several days’ revelry. But one nonetheless discerns that Jake is settling into his new situation with growing confidence—mirroring Mason in the final moment of “Boyhood”—and even a welcome touch of maturity.
A major reason why “Everybody Wants Some!!” works so well is, of course, Linklater’s consummate skill in capturing the small, ostensibly insignificant moments of the past with such easygoing authenticity. It’s not a matter simply of period detail, though Bruce Curtis’ production design and Kari Perkins’ costumes, along with the overall supervision of the musical choices by Randall Poster and Meghan Currier, leave little to chance, and Shane F. Kelly’s unfussy cinematography and Sandra Adair’s editing let things unfold at a natural pace. It’s rather that Linklater has a gift for reaching the essence of those moments without overloading them with the weight of false importance. Everything remains airily free and yet quietly meaningful.
Of course his skill in casting is equally important. Jenner anchors the film as a jock with a sensitive side—handsome and affable without being obnoxious, and with a touch of vulnerability that makes his hookup with Deutch’s pretty, determined Beverly kind of sweet. All his teammates hit the right notes—testimony to Linklater’s careful balancing of the chemistry among them—but the one most viewers will remember is Powell’s Finn, spiting a constant stream of patter that comes across like an ultra-articulate version of what one might hear in any college bull session. (In fact, Linklater’s characters are always more articulate than people you’ll encounter in real life, but not enough to make them sound like literary mouthpieces.)
One has to be careful about overpraising “Everybody Wants Some!!” for fear of encouraging people to expect too much of it, as some viewers did of “Boyhood.” Imagine it as a sort of cinematic kegger, loose, informal and not a little ragged, that reminds you in a penetrating but not hectoring way of what it was like to be young and full of possibility. If taken in that spirit, you might find yourself reacting to it the way Kalina’s Brumley does to everything—with a wide-eyed smile that seems to say, “What, me worry?”