If there's ever a more accurate high school movie than Dazed and Confused, I'll be shocked. Richard Linklater's nuanced and realistic look at a 1976 Texas high school is so dead-on about the sheer aimlessness of the high school experience. Although it's no long 1976, and while I don't live in Texas, so many things about Linklater's film ring true today. He has an eye for capturing how people interact, communicate, and socialize, and I would dare any high school kid to watch that film and not find a little bit of themselves in it. When I first saw Dazed, I was thrown aback by how much I loved it. Not only did it feel like a representation of the high school universe, it was a film with such rich, funny characters who felt like people I knew by the end of the movie. It's endlessly quotable, infinitely watchable, and constantly fun. It's the greatest high school movie of all time, without a doubt. When I heard that Linklater was making a spiritual sequel to his 1993 classic, I was immediately excited. But could the director even come close to recapturing the magic of Dazed and Confused?
The best part is that Everybody Wants Some!!, like its classic predecessor, has virtually no plot. At the start of the movie, Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), shows up at the baseball house of his southern Texas college. After that, he goes and parties for the next few days with his teammates. They do a lot of drinking, meet some girls, smoke some weed, participate in stupid competitions, play a little bit of baseball, talk about life, and go to the local hang-out spots. They go to class at the end of the movie. Then it's over. That's it. That's the movie. And in every single way, it's absolutely perfect. Every scene, every character interaction, every wildly raucous party- it's all wonderful.
Many have noted that Everybody Wants Some!! starts with the beginning of a journey (the first weekend before classes start), as opposed to Dazed and Confused, which begins with an ending (the last day of school). This may seem like a small change, but it provides the fundamental shift in the movie's tone and style. When we meet Pink, Slater, Benny, and all of the other characters in Dazed (with the exception of Mitch and the other freshman), they know each other already. They're witnessing the end of their junior year of high school, wondering what the future holds for them. They have become disillusioned with the experience of high school and have instead embraced the free spirit of the 1970s.
It's a very fun movie and a celebration of high school partying, but in the context of the time period and the setting, there's the recognition that the American high school experience isn't a blast. High school isn't always the most fun, I can tell you that from first-hand experience. There are a lot of times where the sheer pressure of the whole thing gets to you. I've had more existential conversations with people in the last year than I have throughout the rest of my life. Dazed and Confused features a lot of driving around, hanging out, talking, and discussions about the future and the state of America. So yeah, not much has changed- that's pretty much what we do today. We all enjoy it, and we have a good time, but there's the hope of something more- some sense of direction (all of these are reasons that Dazed is a masterpiece). Basically, it's a movie about partying that is literally leading you nowhere. A movie summed up by the quote from Don, who says towards the end of the movie: "All I'm saying is that I want to look bad and say that I did the best I could when I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place." The movie celebrates it, but Linklater knows that it's aimless fun.
Everybody Wants Some!! kinda does this at various times throughout the narrative, but in every way, this is a much more optimistic and fun film. There's no lurking existentialist dread or emptiness. Sure, there's a bit of acknowledgment that some people can't let the college spirit go, especially with one character. And of course, some of the older players on the baseball team are beginning to have identity crises over their future with the sport. But for the most part, Everybody Wants Some!! is a celebration. It's a joyous exploration of new friendships, parties, and the college experience at large. It's the story of a freshman coming to realize the true potential of this new college world, a world that will allow him to "embrace his inner strange."
When you leave the theater at the end of Everybody Wants Some!!, a smile will be planted firmly on your face. After witnessing three days of this team of baseball players having fun, you'll be excited for what the future holds for these guys. I could have literally watched hours of this movie, and I would not have blinked. Linklater knows characters so well, and he crafts such expert dialogue, that everything works into his easy-going flow. There's an atmosphere of relaxation to his films that feels so real and so warm. I could pop in Dazed and Confused or Everybody Wants Some!! at any moment of my life and be entertained. His movies feel like an extension of real life in the form of a vivid journey into a lost world. That's Linklater's strength.
His strength is also casting. Everyone knows that Dazed and Confused is famous for kick-starting the careers of Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, and even character actors like Adam Goldberg and Rory Cochrane. There is no justice in the world if some of the stars of Everybody Wants Some!! don't become major Hollywood superstars. Granted, Linklater's script is great, but these guys are phenomenal young actors. Blake Jenner is the center of the movie, and he creates a universally likable character that I related to in nearly every way. The freshmen crew is rounded out by the lovable meathead Plum, played terrifically by Temple Baker, Zoey Deutch's smart and beautiful Beverly (Jake's sweetheart), Tanner Kalina's clueless Brumley, and Beuter Perkins, the clueless Southern dope played by Will Brittain.
Watching the friendship between Jake and Plummer grow is pretty fun, but to be honest, the freshmen don't spend much time together. However, the freshmen are paired off with the wise and knowledgeable upperclassmen, who are played with a swagger and energy that is irresistible. McReynolds, the pitcher-hating, baseball-splitting star of the team, dominates much of the spotlight, with Tyler Hoechlin giving a terrific performance. Glen Powell is equally magnetic as Finnegan, the philosophical, womanizing mentor who many of the freshmen gravitate towards. Wyatt Russell is phenomenal as Willoughby, basically playing out as a variation on Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed. Finally, Juston Street is hysterical as Jay Niles, J. Quinton Johnson is hilarious and charismatic as Dale, and Ryan Guzman is delightfully charming as Roper, McReynolds' best friend and fellow team leader.
The cast is wonderful, but like all great films, it flows back to the filmmaker with the vision. And while many wouldn't apply the word visionary to Linklater, I absolutely believe that he deserves the title. In Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater combines every one of his strengths for a perfect creation. Linklater isn't a filmmaker devoted to flash or wild directorial tricks. He keeps the camera steady and lets us watch, but he fills the screen with such well-crafted, explosive detail that you get sucked in. His dialogue feels like it could actually be spoken by real people in a real universe. His characters aren't caricatures. They feel like old friends that you've know forever. I know people like Jay Niles. I know people like Roper. I see a lot of myself in Jake. I'm not sure that any other filmmaker could do that.
And man, we have to talk about the period detail in Everybody Wants Some!!. From the very first note of The Knack's "My Sharona" to the final sounds of The Cars' "Good Times Roll," this film has a phenomenal soundtrack, which is no surprise if you know Linklater's films. But unlike Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! encompasses a broader range of music- there's some punk rock, a lot of disco, and plenty of Van Halen to go around. It's a soundtrack that will be on repeat on my iPhone for a long time. On top of that, the atmosphere is elevated by the spectacular costume and set designs, creating the feel and look of the early 1980s. Imitating the time and place without fail, this movie is a vision.
Everybody Wants Some!! is a movie that will be on repeat for the rest of my life. In its essence, it's a party movie, but it's like a party movie set in paradise. The college world of Everybody Wants Some!! is idealized, diverse, and beautiful, a nirvana where anything and everything can happen. If college is anything like this, I'm excited. But most importantly, Everybody Wants Some is a movie that celebrates the spirit of youth and friendship. The characters are so terrific, the actors have such great chemistry, the mood is so easy-going, and the conversations are so thought-provoking and funny. After spending a weekend with these guys, you'll never want to leave. For 116 minutes, Everybody Wants Some!! is relaxing cinematic heaven. It's sweet, thoughtful, and absolutely brilliant. Another Linklater masterpiece.
Let the good times roll.
THE FINAL GRADE: A+ (10/10)
Image Credits: Variety, Guardian, NY Times, MTV, Yahoo, Joblo