Richard Linklater is a treasure. Boyhood is one of the greatest films anyone’s ever made, and the three-part Before Sunrise series is so masterful that it will be taught to aspiring filmmakers generations from now. I’ve defended him and his work when the Academy turned on him, and given a disproportionate amount of thought to the things he does in his movies—but I still wasn’t super psyched when he started talking about Everybody Wants Some!!, his “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused.
I don’t particularly care for that one—I don’t smoke pot and I wasn’t alive in the seventies, so the two biggest draws of the movie are lost on me. But it also seemed weird that a guy in his mid-50′s would be trying so hard to recreate what his life felt like when he was 18-years-old in a movie. For one, he’d already just done that in Boyhood in a way that felt authentic and transformative. And for another, I don’t see a whole lot to celebrate in that experience for its own sake. I have a lot of good memories tied to that point in my life, too (who doesn’t?), but also: Who cares?
But Everybody Wants Some!! was playing its final screening at SXSW right when it was supposed to be a heavy thunderstorm, so I figured I might as well duck in while that passed over, and give one of my favorite filmmakers a chance to delight me with something better than the trailer made it look.
And it’s not bad. It’s fine, occasionally even charming and funny. But also—man, who cares? The movie follows an eighteen-year-old dude on his first weekend at college on a baseball scholarship. He’s a nice enough guy: He wants to drink beer, meet girls, listen to Neil Young, get high, make friends, and play ball. All totally normal things to want! We quickly meet his ten new friends—ten more dudes!—and they mostly want the same things. One of them is a weirdo; one of them is a pseudo-intellectual; one of them is an armchair philosopher; one of them is a country boy; one of them has a bad temper; one of them is kinda dumb; etc, etc, etc. Mostly, though, they’re just a bunch of regular dudes out to have a good time in college. Who can fault ‘em for that?
But maybe it’s the work that I’ve been doing lately, or maybe I just have a car battery where my heart should be, but I can’t really imagine looking at all of the characters in all of the world who can populate a movie, and settling on eleven young, mostly white college ballplayers as the ones worth centering in an uncomplicated story of friendship, discovery, and the joys of freedom and teamwork. Because even when they’re depicted in the most loving way possible—and Linklater and the cast give these fellas a whole lot of love, it’s one of the film’s main assets—they’re still not really great people. Some of the movie’s punchlines are literally just the guys calling women who turn them down lesbians. And the way it’s all presented here, cool, boys will be boys and all of that. But also: even the sweetest, most open-hearted of them, as a college ballplayer in small-town Texas in 1980 would be much more problematic than Linklater presented them to be.
This is one of the things you can’t really help but think about when you find yourself writing about athletes who commit rape and domestic violence for work, so I’m not blaming Linklater for not talking about any of that in his movie—but the way he gets around having to confront the misogyny or homophobia that’s was a part of the world he decided to depict was basically to not have any gay people in it, or to not give any woman in the movie more than about five minutes of screen time.
That isn’t to say that those things make the movie bad—it just makes it simple and naive. Everybody Wants Some!! is nostalgic for a mythical 1980 when you could get a group of eleven bros in a couple of houses, give them free rein over a college campus, and the only people they ever bullied or harassed or picked on were each other. That world doesn’t exist now, so it sure as hell didn’t exist then.
And I guess that’s what’s disappointing about Everybody Wants Some!! The movie doesn’t explore any of its characters as anything other than real good dudes who are just out to have a good time. Maybe I’m dead inside, but I don’t believe that’s how the world really works, and I feel like with the almost four decades of retrospect that Linklater has on his own time as a college freshman, foisting that kind of sentimentality onto the world without examining it in any real way is a disappointing choice to make.
Linklater’s last three movies were Boyhood, Before Midnight, and Bernie—all movies that are curious, and do examine their characters and the worlds they live in. It’s rare to see a filmmaker so consciously take a big step back, and that’s what Everybody Wants Some!! is. It’s not a terrible movie, but it plays through so much rose-colored nostalgia that no part of it feels real. And since Linklater is the sort of director whose most recent work has been great because it’s so concerned with reality, it’s hard not to feel like this one is a big swing and a miss.