There’s a shot in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! that is so casually obscene, I couldn’t believe a straight director filmed it. If you have any eye at all for the male form, you’ll know the moment when you see it: It’s the shot where Tyler Hoechlin, as college ballplayer McReynolds, reclines on a couch, his barely clothed body draped over the piece of furniture like an artful provocation. The camera hangs at crotch level, gazing up at the tanned abs that Hoechlin’s crop top leaves uncovered, while the actor’s muscular left arm is tucked behind his head, his armpit an erogenous zone on confident display.
It’s an image so sexy that the friend I saw the film with actually let out a yelp, but Linklater holds the shot like it’s no big deal, and the young men who share the scene with Hoechlin are similarly unfazed. Everybody Wants Some!! is set in 1980, where men’s fashion kept everything tight and short, and the college ballplayers in the movie aren’t afraid to show off in front of each other. Their T-shirts might as well be painted on — you can almost tell the weather by looking to the perky nipples of star Blake Jenner — and the ballplayers’ hijinx are as unself-consciously homoerotic as can be. The movie convinced me that somehow, nothing is gayer than being a heterosexual man. Who knew?
While there are plenty of gay directors working in Hollywood, it’s interesting that some of our most resonant big-screen homoeroticism has come from straight directors, a group Linklater may now find himself surprised to join. Think of Ridley Scott, whose film White Squall is basically a shirtless Abercrombie & Fitch ad come to life, or his late brother Tony Scott, whose three marriages to women didn’t preclude directing one of the gayest scenes ever committed to film, the volleyball game from Top Gun. The married, misanthropic David Fincher is somehow responsible for defining the gay sensibility in his music videos — like “Express Yourself” and “Vogue” by Madonna, not to mention George Michael’s “Freedom! ‘90” — and he gave us a shot of the nearly nude Brad Pitt in Fight Club so potent that even the sexually anodyne Edward Norton looked ready to combust.
Sometimes, a movie gets its homoerotic subtext from straight people who know exactly what they’re doing: Though he was obsessed with icy blond women, Alfred Hitchcock infused movies like Strangers on a Train and Rebecca with plenty of repressed same-sex desire, and while star Charlton Heston might not have realized Ben-Hur’s same-sex themes, everyone else on the movie was in on the wink. Other times, the central bromance simply skews more homo than intended. Did Kathryn Bigelow realize that Point Break is practically a love story, or did the chemistry between stars Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze take it there? Many of the Fast and Furious movies seem one chest-bump away from a makeout, and while Paul Walker and Vin Diesel share longing looks in the first film, Walker and Tyrese Gibson indulge in some particularly flagrant flirting in 2 Fast 2 Furious, directed by the straight John Singleton. And then there are movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, where an oblivious straight director somehow ends up directing one of the campiest gay films ever made.
Linklater’s movies have never struck me as particularly gay before — even his 2011 movie Bernie, where Jack Black played gay, was awfully circumspect about the character’s sexuality — but maybe the inadvertent homoeroticism of Everybody Wants Some!! just comes with the territory. The camera hardly needs to caress the hard bodies of its stars when the characters are already doing that themselves: In almost every scene, as the ballplayers lounge around the house or go out on the town, someone is showing off, stretching taut muscles, or literally stroking his body in pride. “If I look good, I fuckin’ play good,” one says, articulating the boys’ central philosophy, and while the movie has only a single scene where these athletes try to impress each other on the baseball field, the young men never stop trying to one-up each other’s prowess back at home. In their sexual prime, they’re drunk on their own looks, like a house full of Instahunks who don’t mind equal-opportunity attention.
The guys are all pussy hounds, but their occasional conquests are superfluous and often wordless. These ballplayers only have eyes for one another, and when Ryan Guzman’s Roper brags about how he has the best ass on campus — then can’t stop flexing it — he gets lost in a reverie with his mirror as the other guys look on. Later, the crop-topped Hoechlin grabs an axe to show off a special talent: He can swing it like a bat and cleave a pitched baseball in two. As his barely dressed athlete wraps his fingers around that wood, the other guys are practically licking their lips in anticipation for what he can deliver. Every scene seems like the setup to a delightful bit of vintage gay porno.
Did Linklater expect that his film could be read this way? I doubt it, but those images don’t lose their power just because they’re inadvertent. The movie opens with a procession of male-gaze images as Jenner’s character checks out college hotties on his way to school, but Linklater’s gentle, generous eye leaves enough room for another kind of male gaze that might position Jenner as the hottie worth ogling. The result is an ode to straight-male bonding that doubles as a whole other kind of romp for gay men. It’s safe to say that while watching Everybody Wants Some!!, everybody will get something out of it.