At the end of Boyhood, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) arrives at college and, on an impromptu trip with some new friends, settles into a feeling of serenity as the world opens up before him. That is not exactly the sensation felt by the bros who burst onto campus at the outset of Linklater’s follow-up film, Everybody Wants Some!!, set in the party-filled weekend leading up to the first day of classes. Some of the dudes—there’s a whole baseball team’s worth, as freshmen entry point Jake (Blake Jenner) is joining the team and living in a designated team house—certainly look and act serene at the prospect of girls, beer, and ballplaying, but there’s also a current of ever-present anxiety over the endless jockeying over, well, everything: not just girls, beer, and ballplaying, but also ping-pong, pranks, stupid bets, hazing rituals, and other touchstones of the bro experience. Richard Linklater, sensitive indie poet and longtime Ethan Hawke collaborator, has made a movie about the jocks who would probably hassle the heroes of some of his earlier films. A movie that could be retitled Brohood.
And yet: this new movie is purported to be, and more importantly feels like, one of Linklater’s most autobiographical. It’s easy to look at Boyhood that way; how could a movie about growing up in Texas, filmed in pieces over the course of twelve years, not feel personal? But that movie essentially chronicled the 00s in real time; it doesn’t attempt to make big generational statements about that time, but that’s when it happens, which is to say decades after Linklater himself came of age. Everybody Wants Some!! is set in the fall of 1980, approximately during Linklater’s college years, and Linklater himself was, indeed, a baseball player in college. (Did you ID him in the photo above?)
Everybody may offer certain somebodies a jolt with its jock sympathies, especially for anybody who always kind of assumed that Ethan Hawke represented the on-screen version of Linklater. Of course, it can be two things, as the comment-thread meme goes. In general, Linklater has always extended empathy to most of his characters; his movies contain few outright villains (even the worst of Boyhood’s succession of bad dads are more pathetic, albeit sometimes scary, than truly evil). Two of his earliest films, Slacker and Dazed and Confused, follow dozens of characters, and the film seems to have affection for all of them. It was easy enough to assume, though, that Linklater most identified with the underdog freshmen of Dazed, not the bullying jocks or mean girls. Everybody Wants Some!! has an ensemble nearly the size of Dazed, and a similarly limited timeframe, but aside from glimpses of the drama clique via love interest Beverly (Zoey Deutch, the only female character with any dimension), the movie immerses itself in one group. And Linklater makes hanging out with this group of knuckleheaded jocks a delightful experience.
Maybe this doesn’t sound so miraculous outside of nerd-skewing film critic circles, but as jock-friendly as American culture can be, there aren’t that many movies that really dig into it, especially outside of those that trade on some kind of mythically heroic sports team (even in those cases, there are often token dummies and/or assholes). Everybody Wants Some!! does include one long baseball sequence, but it’s set at a coach-free practice, where egos and joshing dominate, freed as the team is from any serious outside competition. Linklater clearly knows this world well, which may be why the movie reminded me of Super Troopers, of all things, a broad comedy (soon to be sequelized) from 2002 made by bro-ish comedy collective Broken Lizard (formed at a college, of course). The aims are different (Linklater isn’t a gag man, though this movie is quite funny), but the shorthand feels similar. The group’s endless mixture of bravado, immaturity, and insecurity gives off a kind of beer-free intoxication that somehow avoids glamorizing all of the debauchery. Few of the movie’s characters would be immediately described as “gentle,” yet there is a gentleness to the movie itself.
Indeed, the movie’s autobiographical vibes are particularly striking for the way this movie sits in Linklater’s filmography. He’s spoken of it repeatedly as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed (a designation picked up by the film’s marketing), and its structural similarities bear that out. There’s also the symmetry of the earlier film taking place on the last day of school in 1976, while the new one leads right up to the first day of school in 1980. But it also, as mentioned above, kinda-sorta picks up where Boyhood leaves off, creating time loops within time loops, fusing ’76 and ’80 and the Class of ’13 into a familiar cycle; the Before trilogy, with its journey from post-collegiate pontificating to marriage autopsy, can fit in there too, looming in the distance as a possible future for Jake and Beverly.
Jake isn’t as thoughtful (or borderline insufferable) as a young Ethan Hawke character or Boyhood’s Mason, but he does share an instant connection, connection with smart, artsy Beverly. She notices him in a carload of jocks inviting her to a blowout party—the “quiet guy” in the backseat. He tracks her down, leaves her a note, they talk on the phone, and hang out in a way that, during the first weekend of college, probably count as dates. They have a lovely early-morning moment floating in a little river, just a few precious hours before classes begin, after the jock antics have fallen into the background. There’s a glimmer here of Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise, of Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood (whose own teenage changes and thoughtfulness reportedly informed the movie’s direction)—in other word, of our ideas about Linklater the filmmaker slash amateur philosopher himself. In its closing moments, Everybody Wants Some!! starts to play like an origin story about Becoming Richard Linklater.
This might feel like prequel-y closed-universe solipsism if Being Linklater didn’t also involve taking a larger, longer view, even when he stays in the moment. He tends to toggle between intimacy (the Before trilogy; the three-hander Tape; the character study of Bernie) and matter-of-fact expansiveness (Slacker; Dazed; Waking Life; Fast Food Nation)—sometimes in the same movie (he captures Jack Black’s singular movie-star energy in School of Rock, and places it amidst an ensemble of kid actors; there’s a similar, less successful version of that dynamic with Billy Bob Thornton and a bunch of kids in his previous baseball picture, the Bad News Bears remake). These tendencies are reflected in his filmmaking, too—there are plenty of shots in Everybody Wants Some!! where the camera tracks backward or in a circle, taking in countless little side details of behavior even as it tries to stay with Jake. Few of Linklater’s movies have a traditional story arc, and this one is no exception; there are always stories just beyond the movie’s frame, or sometimes in the background of it. Without implicating student athletes as empty, coasting vessels, Linklater gets at the fleeting nature of being on a team with a bunch of joshing dopes (“here for a good time, not for a long time,” is one’s offhanded exit line)—of good times in general, or, really, all times. Boyhood is explicitly about the passage of time, but maybe Linklater is always about that, in one way or another.