The title of Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! is the only awkward thing about it: The movie itself — billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, Linklater’s portrait of high school in the late ’70s — feels as easy as falling off a log. The time is late August, 1980, when an agreeable 18-year-old named Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at Texas Southern University, where he’ll be pitching on the baseball team. His “dorm” is a ramshackle house for fellow baseball players, and the atmosphere in those few days before classes and games begin is loose. The looseness is deceptive, though, because even as these athletes devote most of their waking hours to chasing women (with one practice session), they’re taking one another’s measure: preening, boasting, faking (but not really) aggression. Then there’s another, quieter source of tension. Each sequence begins with a time stamp denoting the number of days, hours, and minutes until classes begin, which adds a note of unease — an extension of the feeling of the last days of high school in Dazed and Confused. Now the men will truly be separated from the boys.
To summarize the glancing narrative of Everybody Wants Some!! would be to injure it, somehow, but it’s a mistake to call the film a “slice of life.” An artist like Linklater knows just where to slice — what to include and exclude. The movie is heightened in ways you don’t realize. The talk doesn’t reach the levels of Barry Levinson’s Diner (what does?) but it’s pungent and often double-edged. And though Jake is, in some ways, a cipher, he gives you a window to the lives of young people in the process of forming themselves.
Part of that formation rests, of course, on learning to read other people. Beuter (Will Brittain), the deep-South roommate with the hostile drawl (he refuses to vacate for Jake and a young woman), will end up seeming younger and more vulnerable than anyone else. The clueless braggart (Ryan Guzman) who’s already convinced that he’s a major-league star will turn out to be so pitifully unhinged, so riddled with rage, that he’ll seem destined to fall hard. (“The guy’s gonna have a fuckin’ aneurysm on the mound!”) A shaggy, mysterious fellow named Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) — who seems at once a participant and an envious bystander — will have a fleeting but sadly definitive comeuppance. The most vivid character is Finnegan, a.k.a. Finn (Glen Powell, in the film’s most magnetic performance), who’s like a master of ceremonies — jokester, pick-up artist, instigator. Finn is the guy who’d make you feel most welcome but maybe also the one you’d tire of most quickly.
Is Everybody Wants Some!! sexist? It’s certainly a product of the male gaze, which is generally pointed in the direction of girls in shorts and tight shirts. In that, it’s the sort of teenpic that might have been made in 1980, minus the locker-room peeking and slapstick. But Linklater’s loose frames make a big difference. And while the girls might draw the camera, it’s the boys’ compulsiveness that registers. They’re horny, of course, but they’re trying to prove something to one another.
That said, Jake finds himself a conventional ingénue, someone well outside the jock milieu. Beverly (Zoey Deutsch) — who’s drawn to Jake’s quietly embarrassed demeanor while Finn cruises for babes — is a musical-theater geek, and will clearly serve as our protagonist’s bridge out of the material world of flesh and booze. Deutsch has her own tricky rhythms. She’s both pretty and a break from the testosterone-fueled edginess. She even gets by with a short disquisition on the myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for life.
Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t have the uncanny sense of time and place of Dazed and Confused, which can still make people feel as if they went to high school in the ’70s. (At least I think it can. I, uh, went to high school in the ’70s.) But it has the same elusive sense of the present. If you’ve seen Linklater’s other films, you know that time for him isn’t just a factor, it’s a character, a player. Encounters always seem more intense when there’s a built-in limit — before sunrise, sunset, midnight. The life of a boy feels more momentous when he seems to be aging before your eyes, never to be again what he was only a few minutes earlier. What everybody wants in Everybody Wants Some!! is not just sex and success on the field. It’s what we all want. It’s time.