Everybody Wants Some!! is a work of anthropological autobiography. Drawing from his own experiences as a college baseball player, writer-director Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunrise) offers an acutely observed study of the sports bro in his natural environment. Depending on your tolerance for jocular teasing and macho prowling (both of which are ever-so-lightly deconstructed), the movie is intimately genial, like a platonic pat on the butt.
That gesture is one of the crucial ways the young men on the baseball team at the center of the film communicate. Other “tribal” rites, to use a word that one character rightly employs to describe the different factions on campus, include drinking beer, playing ping pong, throwing parties and dancing at various clubs. These guys are almost always in motion, as if sitting still for too long would pin them down. (The movie made me wonder: is stillness a sign of male maturity?) This being Linklater, there are a lot of rambling conversations in the film, but perhaps the most emblematically male one we hear is between two teammates whose showdown on the field nearly came to blows. Later, near the dugout, they share this exchange: “Good hit.” “We’re cool.” I believe there’s a butt pat too.
The movie opens a few days before the start of the academic year, and an occasional onscreen counter shows the ticking down of the hours until the first day of class. For these guys, it has the feel of a doomsday clock. Responsibility (not to mention the prospect of sitting in a seat for 50 minutes) looms. The main character among this tribe is incoming freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner). Confident but not cocky, he’s our surrogate as we come to meet the more established residents of the team’s off-campus house, including McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), a hyper-competitive pro prospect; Finnegan (Glen Powell), the loquacious Don Juan figure; and Niles (Juston Street), a wound-up weirdo whose outsized scene-stealing leans a bit too heavily on Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson from Linklater’s Dazed and Confused.
These guys are almost always in motion, as if sitting still for too long would pin them down.
Like that 1993 picture, which followed a group of high schoolers on the eve of summer vacation, Everybody Wants Some!! floats along as a series of vignettes built upon music, motion and talk. Eventually a thematic concern emerges, and it’s a variation on the questions that propel just about every Linklater film: How do you determine your own identity? And once you do that, how do you keep it from being co-opted by square society? At one point, a fellow pitcher named Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) contemplates the loneliness of pitching, and how playing the position sets you apart from the rest of the team. He encourages Jake to embrace that distinction rather than try to fit some sort of image that others might have of him, in hopes of inclusion. Jake’s journey — and he does begin to emerge from the pack when he begins an actual relationship with a performing arts student (Zoey Deutch) — is an answer to another question: how can you be true to yourself within the strict expectations of tribal culture?
Everybody Wants Some!! fits nicely within the tao of Richard Linklater, a zen philosophy that values individual freedom, lack of structure and artistic license. (As Willoughby puts it between bong hits: “Finding the tangents within the framework — therein lies the artistry.”) It’s an attractive worldview, but one I find most interesting when it butts up against the realities of adulthood and responsibility in Linklater’s movies. That’s why the trilogy of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight — in which a wispy affair gradually floats back down to earth — and Boyhood, in which a young man’s artistic awakening takes place against a childhood of mundane disappointment, stand as his most affecting pictures.
Everybody Wants Some!!, even more so than Dazed and Confused, is an exercise in nostalgia, both aesthetically (the movie drips with 1980s music and fashion) and temperamentally. Everything remembered here is remembered fondly, while the more blatant philosophizing borders on platitudes. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart. Don’t let the man get you down! Or, as an instructor writes on the board once classes get underway: “Frontiers are where you find them.” As the credits rolled, I imagined another encouragement the movie might endorse: “Live long bro, and prosper.”