November 4, 2016

Everybody Wants Some!! and Favorite Hang-out Movies

Blake Jenner and Glen Powell in Everybody Wants Some!! from Richard Linklater.

There are times when it’s thrilling to dive into a complex topic and search for meaning. Our quest for truth is not easy in a tumultuous world of fear and divisions. We long for something greater than ourselves and must believe there is a purpose. On the other hand, sometimes it’s just fun to drive around town singing along to “Rappers Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. Who needs all the headaches? Let’s just hit the disco and dance the night away! That kind of thrill is everywhere in Everybody Wants Some!! — Richard Linklater’s warm look at the simpler times of college. Set in 1980 at the start of the school year, this laid-back story is a refreshing escape.

From the first notes of “My Sharona” and the close-up shot of car’s cassette player, Linklater induces fond nostalgia and a cool vibe. It’s easy to compare this feeling to the experience of seeing Dazed and Confused, and the tonal similarities are intentional. Linklater excels at making this type of movie look easy. Viewed through the eyes of newcomer Jake (Glee’s Blake Jenner), the life of a college baseball player looks magical. The guys spend their days drinking, dancing, and constantly looking for girls. They’re confident alphas trained to expect that women (and life in general) will fall for them.

These characters are ultra-competitive jocks that love giving each other hell, and they’re constantly sizing each other up with little tests. The battles are rarely mean-spirited, and camaraderie exists despite the jokes. Linklater played baseball at Sam Houston State in the early ‘80s, and that insider’s perspective brings nuance to each guy. Jake is the quiet and optimistic pitcher that seems comfortable across various groups. There’s the smooth talker Finnegan (standout Glen Powell), obsessive gambler Nesbit (Austin Amelio), goofball druggie Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) and superstar McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin). Linklater understands these guys and ensures that each one is a unique character.

Everybody Wants Some!! follows a structure of four nights of partying before the start of school. The first night nearly enters Wedding Crashers territory with its montage of sex with girls that barely register as characters. It’s all about hooking up, and there are plenty of women thrilled to have that opportunity. What makes this sequence partially work is its pure exuberance, particularly during the night at the Sound Machine disco club. They’re dancing to “Shake Your Groove Thing” without a care in the world. It’s hard not to smile at the joy on the screen here.

I should also remember that we’re seeing this scene from the guys’ point of view. The shot of five girls walking towards the players is like a fantasy scene. It’s basically an 18-year-old’s dream on display. The baseball players are the kings of the school, and they approach the world that way. It doesn’t excuse a few indulgences from Linklater into hero worship, but he connects with these guys based on his experiences. The club and house party scenes play like overly positive memories of a guy looking back decades later. It’s what the characters in Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” might see when they dream about their magnificent past.

Given our present-day climate and sexist presidential candidate, it’s understandable if a film about guys looking to hook up feels a bit archaic. Heck, even the title is clear about the players’ goals. On the other hand, their testosterone-fueled efforts apply to more than sex. Watching them on the field reminds us how this team views their life as a conquest. The “some” that they want includes girls, drinks, and baseball success. With the exceptions of the early scenes, it’s mostly endearing. I’m far from a jock in this mold either; I was on tennis and swimming teams in high school. Still, I can identify with the competitiveness when it veers away from just finding girls.

Thankfully, the entire film doesn’t maintain the pace of that grand first night. After the excitement of reaching school and partying, nothing can match those heights. Of course, there are plenty of small battles to occupy the guys’ time before the next party. Everything becomes a referendum on their manhood, including foosball, pool, and tense ping pong matches. The prep for the next evening also reveals that no woman can match how much these guys love themselves. They lift weights in front of the mirror, trim their mustaches, and obsess over small details. Linklater puts the players on a massive pedestal and then reveals their little issues.

These characters are also cyphers for Linklater to explore the ‘80s music world. The first night covers disco, and we’re off to a country bar for some line dancing on night two. Just change the outfit and they’re ready to go! Even punk rock shows aren’t too much to handle, particularly when the band pulls out the Gilligan’s Island theme song. Jake calls out their identity crisis to Finn, who reminds him that it’s all in the service of their main pursuit. Plus, there’s a cool intersection of music genres in the early ‘80s. The rise of new wave and punk stands alongside ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll and disco. We rarely see period films that understand that no one just listens to music from that exact year. It’s refreshing to have a mix that feels authentic and natural.

The story does switch gears with the romance between Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch), which is almost part of a different movie. She’s the only significant female character, and their scenes are sweet and down to earth. It’s refreshing to see the way Linklater ties the competitive drive of the athletes with that of theater performers. Even the theater kids could party! Jake and Beverly’s morning conservation on the water reminds us that we’re watching a film by the director of Before Sunrise. It also shows that Jake and his friends are hardly one-dimensional animals.

A major factor in liking these guys is their dorkiness. Seeing them sitting at the Sound Machine looking bored on their second night makes them more interesting. They also don’t treat the punks as outsiders either. Jake and Finn just try to ingratiate themselves and have fun. Even the silly rap scene over the end credits underscores them as goofballs. They walk around like big men on campus, but they’re still just young adults messing around. There’s little vitriol in the way they act, and the film approaches the world from their point of view. It’s definitely a male perspective, but not a vile condescension like we’re seeing from guys like Donald Trump.

The guys hang out together in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! film.

The Joys of the Hang-out Movie

One of the main reasons I like Everybody Wants Some!! so much is the exuberance it shows in just hanging out and having a good time. It’s the type of film that draws angry online comments that it’s “not a movie”. I’m drawn to this formula, and Linklater is one of the best at doing it. Dazed and Confused is a perfect example, and he’s also mined similar territory in Waking Life and the Before trilogy. Those films were more intellectual yet share an interest in how we all come together. Another top pick is George Lucas’ American Graffiti, which set the template for using pop music as a soundtrack. It has quite a few similarities with Linklater’s style.

I've included some other favorite hang-out movies in the below list. These aren't a definitive ranking of the “best” choices and just reflect some personal winners. All deserve attention and are refreshing. It’s cool to just spend time with the characters at bars, parties, and other hot spots in their towns.

Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach)

Noah Baumbach’s first film depicts a group of high-minded college graduates dealing with life after school. Each character has an arc, but it’s secondary to just hanging with them. We don’t care if Otis (Carlos Jacott) gets a job; it’s all about his antsy neuroticism. The film’s star is the dry wit of the great Chris Eigeman, who sets just the right tone. Whether they’re arguing over trivia at a bar or avoiding broken glass on the floor, these characters fit my kind of humor.

The Last Days of Disco (Whit Stillman)

I could easily choose any of Stillman’s films for this pick plus the pilot of The Cosmopolitans. They all revel in the art of intellectual conversations while still being petty and real. The Last Days of Disco uses the club as a perfect backdrop for characters to talk about random issues. Eigeman again is a standout as Des, an even drier and more self-centered guy. Kate Beckinsale also shines as Charlotte, who’s nastiness is just part of her being. I’m still partial to Metropolitan on the whole, but Stillman really nailed the hang-out movie with his third film.

Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins explore San Francisco in Everybody Wants Some!!.

Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins)

Failling more into the Before Sunrise realm, this low-budget debut from Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) spends 24 hours in San Francisco with two new friends (Wyatt Cenac, Tracey Heggins) after a one-night stand. James Laxton’s cinematography offers a gorgeous view of the city as the couple gets to know each other. They attend a concert, see the sights, and even listen to a human rights speaker. It’s a romance for the modern age that never forces the issue.

Return of the Secaucus Seven (John Sayles)

This 1979 John Sayles film is also his first and depicts college friends reuniting 10 years later. Similar to The Big Chill but with more heart, this low-budget movie put Sayles on the map. The characters haven’t escaped their college selves, who were arrested for a political demonstration. There are no huge revelations, but it’s still enjoyable to meet these fully defined characters.

Let the Good Times Roll

It’s tricky with hang-out movies to set plot aside yet still keep our interest. There are plenty of examples where films tried this style and just sat there. What makes Everybody Want Some!! work is Linklater’s understanding of these guys. He was one of them. The small details make it click. It doesn’t hurt to have a killer soundtrack either. Even familiar tunes like “Whip It”, “Heart of Glass”, and “I Want You to Want Me” don’t feel ancient here. There’s also a little sadness underneath all the excitement. The story counts down to the first day of class and hints that nothing will match these first days. Like the Boss says, glory days will pass you by.

4 comments:

  1. Everybody Wants Some!!! was a surprise for me as it shows how diverse Richard Linklater can do from something as sprawling and dramatic as Boyhood and then do something like this. Yet, you would expect these guys to be stereotypical asshole jocks but there is so much about them that is just fun and you want to hang out with them. Plus, I love the fact that they're open to new things yet want to maintain that idea of teamwork when it comes to be a baseball team.

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    1. I agree and think what's key is that Linklater played baseball in college. He knows this type of guy, so he's pulling from experience. He's shown a rare ability to make so many different kinds of movies. Dazed and Confused is closest to this one, but there's also School of Rock, Burnie, Waking Life, and even the Bad News Bears remake. He's definitely one of my favorites.

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  2. I didn't attend school in the US and maybe that was why Everybody Wants Some didn't click with me emotionally, although I loved the soundtrack. I prefer Dazed and Confused for the characters and the feeling it gives me. I'm a fan of Linklater, but his films tend to be hit or miss with me.

    Other hang-out movies not mentioned here that I'd recommend, The Last Detail (1973), which I saw this year. Victoria (2015) directed by Sebastian Schipper, which Nostra at myfilmviews rated 10/10.

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    1. Chris, I haven't seen The Last Detail or Victoria so far. I've heard great things about them, particularly The Last Detail. I suspect that if I dug further, I could pull together an entire list of hang-out movies from the '70s. There was definitely a different vibe at that point. I went to college in the mid-to-late '90s, so it was still not much like what we see in Everybody Wants Some!!, but your point makes sense. It's such a personal thing for Linklater.

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