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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! is an enjoyable but highly idealised celebration of youth and manhood

Jake (Kyle Jenner) gets hazed by his baseball team-mates

Everybody Wants Some!!
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: 
Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman
Running time: 117mins 


In his 1993 film, Dazed And Confused, writer/director Richard Linklater depicted the lives of a gang of 1970s Texas high school 'jocks' as they smoked pot, got drunk, chased girls and 'hazed freshmen'. They were also meant to play American football but we never saw much of that. It was rich, resonant, genuinely funny (the antithesis of simple-minded teenage comedies such as Porky's) and perfectly captured the aimlessness and madness of adolescence. Rarely has a film been so perfectly titled.

Everybody Wants Some!! sees him cover similar ground, only now Linklater's jocks (albeit different ones) are all members of a college baseball team and it's 1980. There is still copious amounts of pot smoking, boozing, hazing and girl chasing, proving that young men are nothing if not predictable. Having been a college baseball player himself, though, the director clearly knows his onions.

It isn't a direct sequel (the kids from Dazed - including the likes of Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey and Parker Posey - are all now well into their forties so a college-set follow-up was a non-starter), but it's certainly more than a straightforward companion piece. In fact, Linklater has described his latest project as a "spiritual sequel" to both Dazed and his sublime 2014 film Boyhood but, in truth, it owes a great deal more to the former. In fact, at times, it comes across as a sort of 'requel', recycling much of what made Dazed so much fun (loose structure, killer soundtrack, intriguing characters, strong performances from a cast of relative unknowns) but tinkering just enough to keep things fresh. 


McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) and Plummer (Temple Baker)

There is little in the way of plot - this is very much a character piece. Jake (Glee's Blake Jenner) is a freshman at a fictional Texas university on a baseball scholarship. His team is put up not in dorms like the other students, but in a ramshackle old house. They are unsupervised by the college authorities and, despite warnings not to consume alcohol on the premises or permit female guests upstairs, their domicile very quickly becomes party central. In the brief period before the start of the new college year, Jake bonds with his new team-mates, while striking up a relationship with performing arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch).   

The real world beyond the college campus sticks its nose into their business just twice - once when we see pro-Carter and pro-Reagan stalls at the American equivalent of a Freshers' Fair (the Republican beat his Democrat rival in 1980's US Presidential election), and again when one of the team - Billy Autrey (Will Brittain), a simple southern kid they teasingly rename 'Beuter Perkins' - has to briefly journey home when his girlfriend thinks she's pregnant. The rest of the time is spent in an hermetically-sealed bubble of booze, babes, bongs and baseball. Their team coach might well tell them, "You're not in high school any more," but he may as well be talking to the cat that jumps out of a fridge in one scene, because anyone expecting this lot to remain on the straight and narrow is wasting his time.

That said, in many ways it's possible to see Everybody Wants Some!! as an anti-Animal House. John Landis's 1978 movie about the members of an anarchic university fraternity had a mean-spirited edge that, viewed today, through more enlightened eyes, seems utterly prehistoric. The outrageous plot thread that always stays in my mind is when our frat-house anti-heroes go on a road trip to an all-girl college and Otter (Tim Matheson, later of The West Wing) pretends to be the fiancé of a recently-deceased student to elicit sympathy and get laid. The group ends up abandoning the young women they hook up with at a roadhouse, after being menaced by some black men - all lazy stereotypes, naturally. 


Pipe-smoking gadabout Finn (Glen Powell)

In stark contrast, almost all of Linklater's characters are impeccably behaved. They're not racist or homophobic, they're respectful to women (Jake woos Beverly by taping flowers and a note to the door of her dorm room) and loyal to their team-mates. Of course, there's banter by the bus load, arguments, pranks, and the usual kind of fall-outs you get around any group of testosterone-filled young men, but these are soon forgotten or quickly glossed over. Even their non-stop partying is relatively innocent - not one of them seems to suffer a hangover, no one pukes, passes out or ends up in casualty. If only my own college days had been so painless.

Occasionally, you think the plot is going to move in a more dramatic direction (Billy starts to feel resentment at his 'Beuter Perkins' nickname and you wonder if it might lead to a punch-up at some point), but Linklater is keen never to make confrontation a focus of his story. He wants you to like his characters and you do, especially pipe-smoking gadabout Finn (Glen Powell), cologne-drenched uber-competitor McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) and stoner-with-a-secret Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). 


Everybody Wants Some!!: A highly-idealised college romp

Linklater gives us a very idealised picture of these people and this time and place. In fact, it's idealised in a way in which Dazed rarely was (some of those kids were straight-up awful). The director is very keen to paint college as a chance to try new things so you can find out who you really are, whether that involves hanging out with your baseball brethren, moshing with punk rockers, do-si-doing at a country and western night or larking about with the performing arts kids. Unfortunately, there were times when it all made me feel a little bit incredulous, to be honest. 

Are we seriously expected to believe there was no racism or homophobia in Texas in 1980? That if you turn up to a C&W party night, the black guy you're with isn't going to get a single dodgy comment or reaction? Maybe I'm maligning the good people of that particular US state in that particular decade but it does seem a bit unlikely. In Linklater Land, though, such unpleasantness would break the spell; he's deliberately mythologising, and doesn't want to spoil his nostalgia-soaked spectacle with anything as tawdry as prejudice.

On some level, though, the director is aware his kids and milieu are a little too good to be true so attempts to deflect such criticisms all onto one character - Jay 'Raw Dog' Niles (Juston Street), a 95-mph pitcher who believes he's destined for Major League Baseball and doesn't care who knows it. He has the social skills of a gila monster and an unpleasant line in racial slurs, too, at one point referring to an Hispanic barman as 'Pancho Villa'. The problem is, he's little more than a poorly-realised cartoon and the few scenes he's in are easily the film's least convincing. 

While I'm casting aspersions, Everybody's other main problem is that its female characters are so low in the mix they are practically non-existent (this, to a lesser extent, was also a problem with Dazed And Confused). Indeed, Beverly is the only woman with a name, let alone more than one line. Linklater can write strong, complex women in his sleep (see Patricia Arquette in Boyhood for the most recent evidence), so even though Everybody is unambiguously supposed to be about young men and manhood, it's still somewhat disappointing.



Zoey Deutch plays Jake's love interest, Beverly

US sport-averse Brits will be pleased to hear this is a baseball movie that doesn't actually contain very much baseball. You see the team in training towards the end, but that's about it. That said, the ultra-competitive streak of everyone in the house is something Linklater returns to again and again, and there is hardly a moment when the house-mates aren't playing sport or a game of one kind or another, be it table tennis, knuckles, pinball, basketball or Space Invaders. Everybody may be a film about the magic and mayhem of your college years but it's also about the bonds between team-mates, loyalty, sacrifice and, ultimately, transferring those qualities into sporting success and glory. Linklater clearly loves the jock culture he depicts here but is happy to poke fun at it too, pointing out homoerotic elements more than once, no more so than when macho-man McReynolds (clearly named after Burt) flounces about in a cut-off top.

The film's most memorable scene takes place early on when the gang raps along, word-perfect, to the Sugar Hill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight' in a Pontiac, as they cruise around hoping to find girls to invite to a party. It perfectly encapsulates everything you need to know about what it is to be young and feel indestructible. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and, as Del Boy Trotter might once have had it, the world is your lobster.

Rating: WWW

Everybody Wants Some!! is in cinemas now

Ratings
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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