Make room in the village square and dust off the stocks: I am about to give a less than favorable review to a Richard Linklater film.
(Aside: I know I recently promised a review of Krisha, along with other films, in a mini review round-up. This is not that. Sorry. Sort of. Okay, I’m not sorry. But I will write about those other movies soon. What, you think I get to do this for a living or something?)
That isn’t to say that I did not like this particular Richard Linklater film, which happens to be his latest. Everybody Wants Some!! is a fine enough movie, a more than serviceable pre-summer Popsicle to while away the Springtime as we all wait patiently for Mother Nature to pick a fucking season. It’s fun. It’s filled with good, engaging performances. It flies by at just under two hours, which is a feat worthy of praise in the wake of that one terrible piece of garbage Warner Bros. dropped on us a week ago that is a full thirty minutes longer but feels ten times that amount. And, as befits any production adorned with Linklater’s surname, it is chock-full of philosophical observations that would be profound if they weren’t fixated on their own belly buttons.
But Everybody Wants Some!! has problems. It is plotless, but as with the interrupted streams of abstract ruminations and sentiments, this is to be expected of the Linklater brand. It is often vague in its conclusions, should it ever bother reaching any at all, but again, it’s Linklater. Complaining about the film’s uncertainties and reveries is like giving Guillermo del Toro shit for romanticizing literal monsters. No, the issue with Everybody Wants Some!! isn’t that it’s too Linklatery; it’s that it isn’t Linklatery enough. As much as these mentioned qualities are what we typically praise Linklater for, they are the only qualities he has brought to bear on his story or on his story’s emotionalism, both of which are non-existent. If anything, the film’s driving force is nostalgia, even more than it is in Boyhood. Lots of adults dream of going back to college, but those adults aren’t filmmakers.
Linklater, of course, is, and more than that he’s a revered filmmaker two years removed from a fantastic 2014 in which he was endlessly feted for making one of the year’s most celebrated offerings. But Everybody Wants Some!! is no Boyhood. It isn’t even Dazed and Confused, the film to which Everybody Wants Some!! is intended as a spiritual sequel. Arguably, Everybody Wants Some!! is a spiritual sequel to Boyhood, too, picking up more or less where that movie ends: With the young male’s never-ending quest to get his rocks off. But it has none of that film’s mundane grandeur and none of Dazed and Confused‘s time capsule import. It is a lark that is content with being a lark. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, but while Everybody Wants Some!! is a good time at the theater, it lacks the insight and perspective that is essential to Linklater’s best efforts, a’la the Before series and Boyhood, which is a markedly more mature movie despite the fact that its events are seen through the eyes of an adolescent boy.
Arguably, this is true of Everybody Wants Some!!, too. We are latched onto young Jake (Blake Jenner), an incoming college freshman who arrives at school three days before classes start and moves in with his housemates cum teammates. They’re baseball players, and they’re all living under one roof; the “wacky sitcom” flavor of that synopsis should tell you everything you ought dare anticipate about the movie from there. I’d be lying if I said there is more to it than that. Guess what? There isn’t! Just a hundred and nineteen minutes of doofus jocks figuring out ways to score with coeds, causing trouble at local watering holes and clubs, showing total disregard for everything that is demanded of them by their coach, and spouting off faux-erudite observations about the world around them when they aren’t busy living up to male athlete stereotypes.
Boys will be boys; that could be the film’s tagline. It needs to be said that Everybody Wants Some!!‘s masculine relish is not problematic with a capital “hashtag P.” Depiction, after all, does not equal endorsement, and filtered through Linklater’s lens, these goofs are harmless outside of their wanton disregard for authority. The film’s issue is that it’s thin as cambric. There’s simply nothing there to hold the characters’ raucous rumpuses together, no emotional underpinning, no character growth, no development, no moral to be learned or theme to be realized. Sure, this is ostensibly about Jake’s journey to manhood, but Linklater ignores the GPS’s pleading for about an hour before he decides that it’s time to set his hero to his ultimate destination. (Unsurprisingly, that destination involves a girl, Beverly, played by the delightful Zoey Deutch. She’s great, but used to very little effect here, more of a plot device than an actual character. She exists for Jake to realize that he’s gotta grow up sometime.)
And so we wind up going nowhere, certainly nowhere Linklater hasn’t taken us before. At least it’s a jubilant trip. Jenner is a movie star in the making; he has that kind of easygoing, unfussed charisma that combined with his good looks makes him insufferably likable. (You want to hate the guy, but you can’t. He’s that one popular high school dude who goes out of his way to be friends with everybody.) Deutch, again, is an understated marvel. Jenner’s supporting cast is also aces, especially J. Quinton Johnson and Glen Powell. You don’t mind hanging out with them even if “hanging out” is Everybody Wants Some!!‘s loftiest aspiration. It is baffling that Linklater couldn’t dream up something more substantive than that, but let’s cut the guy some slack: after investing himself in movies like Boyhood and Before Midnight, he could use the release of a good old fashioned college frat comedy. There are worse ways to spend one’s time than Everybody Wants Some!!, and worse characters to spend time with. But the film’s flimsiness is made frustrating by the fact that we know he can do so much better.