In the last twenty-three years, it’s safe to say that Richard Linklater has moved on from Dazed and Confused. In the case of Everyone Wants Some!!, he hasn’t had to travel very far.
Linklater’s 1993 coming-of-age comedy is arguably the finest cinematic portrayal of the American high school experience since The Breakfast Club. As well as the Before… Trilogy — which vividly catches the first flush, the rekindling, and the possible conclusion of a grand romance — 2014’s Boyhood, which was famously shot over the course of eight years, contains within it both the scope and incident of an entire youth. It was also arguably robbed of Best Picture by the more showily virtuosic Birdman.
Narratively, Wants Some picks up at roughly the same point as Boyhood ends, albeit thirty years in the past. They say that college is the best time in your life, but its a cliche that Linklater’s latest finds the truth of.
The spiritual successor to Dazed, the film takes place over the first three days of college leading up to the start of class, as seen from the perspective of freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner). The sense of time and place is established straight off the bat – pun absolutely intended – with a tape deck blaring out “My Sharona” and a stack of vinyl in the back seat. Pulling up outside a rundown party house, Jake finds himself immediately cast among the jocks, stoners, and assorted goofballs that make up the team.
These include dead-eyed hillbilly Billy Autrey (Will Brittain), who’s already picked up the unwanted nickname “Beuter”; the hip, advice-dispensing Dale (Quinton Johnson); and suave, philosophising bullshit artist Finn (Glenn Powell); all lovable bros of different stripes. None of them feel like stereotypes, however, but seemingly authentic portraits of real-life people. Linklater himself attended Sam Houston University in Huntsville, Texas – playing baseball no less – and you can imagine a similarly diverse bunch among them.
Want Some’s cast is expansive – the poster alone shows twelve – but the interplay between them is a balanced delight. Linklater’s camera moves smoothly through daytime hang-outs and night-time rock-outs alike, missing no one out, nor feeling like its trying to document every moment.
This shaggy dog approach nevertheless feels like a disciplined distillation of the American college experience circa 1980. We watch Jake go cruising, go clubbing – first a tacky disco joint then a barn dance (with a quick costume change between) – smoke weed, discuss music, go to batting practice, meet a girl, Beverly (Zoey Deutch); all fairly trivial stuff, but somehow Linklater makes it matter. If you were never there, this is how you imagine, how you hope, it would be. All the interactions are sharper, better, somehow “truer” than reality usually allows.
The beardy, McConaughey-esque stoner, Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), is the chillest; team psycho, Jay (Juston Street), — who looks like a tightly wound, ‘roided out Ned Flanders — the most intense. Jake, meanwhile, as our heartfelt, All-American protagonist – with his athletic lankiness, strong jawline (and endearing toothiness), soulful brown eyes – makes us care about his integration into college life.
Wants Some is a perfect fly-on-wall encapsulation of the college experience as dwelt on over the course of an adult life, lovingly and expertly recalled; polished to a shine by the passing years. All the mating rituals, the ribbing, and the competitiveness, the hormones, the camaraderie, and the aggression, feel almost anthropological in observation, lending themselves to both low-key drama — Is Kenny (Ryan Guzman) really helping himself to Jake’s shirt so brazenly? Is Glen (Tyler Hoechlin) really freaking out over a game of ping pong? — and, with it, feel-good comedy.
The two exclamations marks in the film’s title would seem to be a reference to Get Happy!!, the fourth album from Elvis Costello, which was released in 1980 — the same year in which Want Some is set. Like the best-known song from the album, this is high fidelity stuff; executed with focus, verve, energy, and purpose, and rocking a casually great soundtrack (Pat Benatar FTW).
A refreshingly unpretentious, surprisingly profound dip in a pool of high naturalism, its two-hour runtime flies by till you suddenly finds yourself walking out of the cinema, scarcely believing it’s all over. And, in the end, what’s more true of the college experience than that?