Thursday, May 5, 2016

Distilled Cinema: Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!

Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman, Temple Baker in Everybody Wants Some!!.

I’ll concede that filmmaker Richard Linklater didn’t need to follow up his audacious and experimental 2014 film Boyhood with something equally ambitious. He could be forgiven for taking an artistic break, after that 12-year-plus ongoing project, and making something lighter and less taxing. But I cannot for the life of me conceive what he was thinking by proffering Everybody Wants Some!!, a lifeless, pointless and utterly unoriginal concoction that will, no doubt, soon be completely forgotten by anyone but his most diehard fans.

Set in Texas, circa 1980, Everybody Wants Some!! centres around Jake (Blake Jenner), a budding baseball prospect, who shows up a few days before college begins, moves into the house already inhabited by some of his fellow teammates and acclimatizes himself to his new surroundings, setting out to meet girls (the everything everybody wants is sex or ‘pussy’ as the guys persist in calling it) but also intent on drinking and drugging, having a blast in the short time before the humdrum school year starts in earnest. But don’t get your hopes up. There’s not all that much sex or nudity in the movie nor does it go overboard with the alcoholic and illegal substances, which, at least, could have made for scenes that would have been comedically potent. The movie’s pretty tame, all things considered.

Blake Jenner and Zoey Deutch in Everybody Wants Some!!.
The film’s storyline is not necessarily a bad one, albeit not particularly scintillating, either. But Linklater pretty much drops the ball here and only succeeds in reminding you of several far superior academically set films, including John Landis’ sweetly anarchic National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), Noah Baumbach’s witty and sharp Kicking and Screaming (1995) and Linklater’s own lively and pleasingly boisterous high school set 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused, which after his ‘Sunrise’ trilogy, remains his best movie. Everybody Wants Some!!, by contrast, limps along in a plodding fashion, has an airless quality to it – it doesn’t breathe life into its college setting and the disparate folks who inhabit it – and doesn’t amount to much in the end. There’s a reference to the upcoming American presidential election (Carter vs. Reagan), an acknowledgement that punk, rock, country and disco co-exist as musical options for the students (the movie’s soundtrack, mostly popular hits by Blondie, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, The Cars and The Knack, though Frank Zappa’s Sleep Dirt creeps in, too, is the film’s only really effective element but it’s not enough to carry it) and a few literary nods, but not anything more than that. The movie simply has absolutely nothing on its mind, not even in a nihilistic fashion, which would at least have given the movie some momentum. (Linklater’s oeuvre, which also includes other flops like The Newton Boys (1998) and Fast Food Nation (2006) is distinctly uneven. Like all his output, though, Everybody Wants Some!! is competently made, for what that’s worth.)

For their part, the actors, newcomers and none of whom I’m familiar with, are fine but they’re almost all playing types: the smart mouthed one, the redneck, the high strung one etc. (I did like Glen Powell's take on Finnegan, though, as a pretentious, mustachioed dude who adapts perfectly well to whatever environment he finds himself in, which was amusing in a superficial way.) There’s a little more to Jake’s character – he’s a touch more sensitive and thoughtful than the other jocks and actually wants a real relationship with Beverly, a cute girl he spotted his first day on campus – but only marginally so. (Incidentally, the film’s lack of homophobic utterances by its macho and would-be macho protagonists doesn’t ring true at all. Come on, it’s Texas in 1980 and those types of comments and slurs would have been routine among the athletes. On the other hand, for reasons never explained, these American jocks all know the words to the Canadian National Anthem.) Ironically, considering Linklater’s otherwise total lack of interest in female characters, Beverly – nicely played by Zoey Deutsch (who is actress Lea Thompson’s daughter) – is the only person in the film who comes across as well rounded, appealing as a slightly quirky and smart theatre arts major.

So what was Linklater going for here? Everybody Wants Some!! is simply distilled cinema, containing various elements of so many other films without, for even a second, developing a unique personality of its own. It’s one thing for him to be more laid back this time around but, let’s face it, Everybody Wants Some!! is practically catatonic. In baseball parlance, it’s a whiff.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches regular film courses at Toronto's Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and Ryerson University's LIFE Institute, where he is currently teaching a new course on documentary cinema, a follow up to a previously successful one on the same subject.

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