While his obsession with time remains intact, for his latest film, “Everybody Wants Some!!,” director Richard Linklater strips loss and melancholy from the framework and lets the consummate entertainer within take over. Fixed in a freewheeling state with this “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed and Confused,” the filmmaker only allows hints to peek through of a reality where people might fall in and out of love, or a mother might watch her son with pride and sadness as he grows up and heads to college. Instead, baseball, beer, and the next party fill the frame with an infectious quality of camaraderie, built on a cast ripe with chemistry and their ability to showcase Linklater’s unique ear for dialogue.
The story is set in the fall of 1980, in the lead-up to the first day of classes at a fictional Texas university. As one might expect, the plot follows a relentless hangout session with a sea of blond-haired (and one Afro’ed) baseball players, all living under frat house roofs and using the film’s Van Halen-inspired title as their guiding directive in life. Their quest to get laid takes us through every social strata of college life, only stretched to excess, as each theater group and punk collective is given the largest canvas possible on which to play.
Our main pair of eyes throughout is Jake (Blake Jenner), a young freshman pitcher who picks up where Ellar Coltrane left off in “Boyhood.” Entirely reactive, naïve, and frankly a bit dull, he is pure audience cipher, but he slides into a functional straight-man role in the super-sized ensemble. Will Brittain, Ryan Anthony Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, J. Quinton Johnson, and Wyatt Russell are only a few of the new faces that Linklater has assembled with his casting team, but they have presence, as well as uncanny, had-to-be-intentional likenesses to older actors (Matt Dillon, Billy Crudup, Robert Redford, and, naturally, Matthew McConaughey, to save you time in the theater).
Personalities are gradually parsed out through Linklater’s unhurried script: the hot-headed team captain McReynolds (Hoechlin); the tactful Finn (Powell), who can turn on his Philosophy 101 jargon or country charm when needed; Willoughby (Russell), who can be relied upon to strike a bong up when needed; and the patient Dale (Johnson), who serves a mediator to all ranks on the team. Only a few strays live outside of the vibe the rest of the film lays down, like resident oddball pitcher Niles (Juston Street), who feels too outlandish and desperate to ever gain sympathy or laughs.
Details lead the story as well, with costume designer Kari Perkins giving each character a suitably broad ‘80s-era look — tight t-shirts and jeans, collared shirts, and tank tops rule the day. Perkins’ work is equally matched by DP Shane F. Kelly and production designer Bruce Curtis, both of whom land on a peculiar vibe in their approach between lived-in and expressionistic. We never feel that the characters actually sleep in these apartments and frat houses, yet these locations draw us into their reality nonetheless. Linklater is clearly having a ball in this particular sandbox, whether in soundtrack selection (Van Halen, Blondie, a swath of disco), his expertly staged baseball sequences and party scenes, or his ability to conjure a finely tuned punchline (“Cats don’t belong in fridges” being one of many quotable lines).
The several times the filmmaker ventures outside of the team’s claustrophobic rituals, namely through run-ins and encounters with the university’s women, we glimpse exactly how much of a fantasy world the guys truly live in. The filmmaking often follows into their wish fulfillment — Linklater relishes the opportunity for a female mud-wrestling match, while perhaps two women in a film of dozens actually speak, or differ in screen direction from “gaze longingly at the leads.” One who doesn't, theater major Beverly (played by Zoey Deutch), starts to tip the scale by guiding Jake into her performance art interests, but it isn’t long before the rest of Jake’s team crash in to survey the new scene.
The strength of Linklater’s films has always been their ability to capture the textures of lived experience, and “Everybody Wants Some!!” is no different in that regard: it is a confident, hugely enjoyable return to a universe that treats the connection to “Dazed and Confused” not as an obligation or cash grab, but as inspiration to match that film’s level of energy and chemistry. Proper distance will prove its cultural staying power, while its cast becomes a new class of acting talent, but for now, it seems best just to soak in this worthy two-hour haze of fleeting, fondly remembered college experiences. [B+]