The Male Specimen
By Michael Koresky
Everybody Wants Some!!
Dir. Richard Linklater, U.S., Paramount
With its mellow groove, condensed time frame, and episodic half-narrative coasting on the breezy charms of young people trying but not always succeeding at verbalizing the challenges of getting older, the latest Richard Linklater film could never be mistaken for anything other than a Richard Linklater film. At the same time, there’s something unexpected here for the director: a palpable, sensual physicality, tied to an almost entirely male cast. Within the first five minutes of the film, as we’re introduced to the characters, we are treated to a parade of broad chests, bulging biceps, slim jeans, short shorts, tank tops, and tighty whities all flaunted by a group of remarkably good-looking men. The wardrobe itself might seem especially familiar to connoisseurs of vintage gay porn.
These details are not gratuitous to relate, and they are not beside the point of the film: Everybody Wants Some!! follows a few crucially uncrucial days in the life of a group of promising college athletes in a Texas state school in 1980, young men whose livelihoods depend on their bodies and whose intellectual pursuits, at this stage in their incipient careers, are impossible to separate from the condition of their muscles. Here, a director whose oeuvre has often been called cerebral (or by the less charitable, “talky”) has partly given himself over to the animal, a portrait of homosocial ritual that verges on the homoerotic. It suits him well, like the appealingly tight pairs of chinos the camera often all but ogles.
Without necessarily being a critique, Everybody Wants Some!! is concerned with the performance of masculinity. Its nonstop, butt-slapping bravado is what gives the film its distinct energy. Those who have heard the film touted as a “spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused” might be surprised to find it so focused on the jocks rather than weirdos, outcasts, and geeks—in other words, the hazing, dick-swinging semi-villains that injected a bit of nasty energy into that beloved 1993 film are here the main attraction, with no sweet-souled losers to curtail their lunging for narrative control. This may prove to be too much machismo for some (let’s not pretend that many of us critics weren’t more squarely in the geek camp in high school), but in presenting them as they are, Linklater, ever the good-natured observer of human connection and sensitive American masculinity, creates something strangely beautiful. He sculpts decency from what might have otherwise seemed an undifferentiated mass of testosterone.
During the four-day period the film spans—a long late-August weekend leading up to the first day of class—the main characters, who are fellow team members and housemates, will not accomplish, attempt, or even realize very much. Our guide through this jungle of masculine bluster is intended to be newbie freshman pitcher Jake Bradford, but as played by bright-eyed, pearly-toothed dirty blond Blake Jenner he effectively blends into the background. Confident from the get-go, the genetically gifted Jake is the type of guy for whom everything clearly comes easily, and our lack of doubt that he can get whatever he wants somewhat dulls the impact of his gentle romantic pursuit of adorable theater major Beverly (Zoey Deutch). More compelling and central to the film’s rhythms are the colorful characters surrounding him, those guys attempting to initiate him into a world of endless, faux-rebellious one-upmanship. Boastfulness is their unifying character trait. McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), whose cologne-doused hairy chest is its own character, throws a hissy fit when he loses at Ping-Pong, and is an ace at axing a fastball clean in two. Roper (Ryan Guzman) is seemingly too preoccupied with his own physical flawlessness—admiring his own ass in tight pants before going out; referring to himself and his housemates as “Greek gods” to try to pick up disinterested girls—to notice much about anyone else. The strutting and loquacious Finnegan (Glen Powell) and Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) seem to desire nothing more than to impart perceived wisdom to their younger brothers. Stocky, sleepy-eyed Plummer (Temple Baker) splits the easy difference between teasing jock and indifferent pothead—and, in the last scene, upon seeing his professor enter the room on his first day of class, supplies the film’s funniest line reading. The most extreme competitive streak belongs to the inscrutable, bespectacled Jay Niles (Juston Street), a frightening loose cannon as easily antagonized in a bar as on the pitcher’s mound, everyone’s bared id.
If these seem like minor or vague descriptions, then that’s because there’s not much in the way of emotional arcs or obstacles for these characters, even less so than in the intentionally slack Dazed. All college hijinks comedies are in essence ethnographically oriented films, turning their cameras on socially learned “bad” behavior; in barely putting forth even the faintest hint of a plot, Everybody Wants Some!! baldly reveals this essence. The cartoonish quality of the film’s slapstick goofing and the almost uniform beauty of the actors never lets us forget we’re watching a fiction and a heavily constructed vision of the past, but the single-minded rambunctiousness of the film speaks to its reach for genuine authenticity. Linklater, who attended a Texas state college on a baseball scholarship, is not merely exercising his nostalgia muscles, but shrewdly taking on the ultra competitive nature of the hormonally driven American male within the trappings of a take-her-easy hangout movie.
Linklater allows for some bemused soul-searching; after a few of the guys hesitantly attend and enjoy a punk mosh at a club off campus, Jake states, “This rather begs the question of who we really are.” However jokily expository this moment is, it speaks to the essential self-consciousness of the characters. Like those in Dazed (or Before Sunrise), they’re young but hyper aware of their place in time and that they are on the verge of . . . something. Linklater’s always been good at letting his young characters be goofy, naïve existentialists without making fun of them for it: witness the sweetness with which he allows a half-clothed Jake to tell Beverly, during a late-night pond frolic, about how his college entrance essay focused on the connection between the plight of Sisyphus and the pursuit of his baseball dreams. Here, one sees hints of Linklater the former philosopher-athlete, a tangle of sex, sports, and smarts.
These and other occasional hints of “where are we going?” rumination are consistently and summarily shuffled off for the next round of horseplay. There’s more alcohol-drinking, mud-wrestling, pinball-fetishizing, and woman-objectifying than any adult should be comfortable with, but that makes perfect emotional sense for such a pointed blast of in-the-moment juvenilia. Those who mindlessly simplify Malick films by calling them “perfume commercials,” might see something like a feature-length “beer ad” here. To say this aesthetic itself is employed for a greater purpose would miss the point of its unabashed directness. A tossed-off scene of two guys playing a round of “bloody knuckles” is as important to the film’s emotional fabric as the blossoming love between Jake and Beverly. At one point a character refers to the men’s “tribal instincts” and here this viewer was persuaded that Everybody Wants Some!! is, in its own way, as much about masculine rites of passage and the bliss and terror of the male body as Claire Denis’s Beau travail. At the end, just as life is about to begin, Jake finally lays down his head to sleep—a very Linklater move that could bring us right back to the beginning of his breakthrough film Slacker. Finally resting his body, Jake is perhaps becoming that most Linklater of things: a dreamer.