As “Everybody Wants Some!!” opens, it is 1980, three days and a few hours until the start of college classes at fictional Southeast Texas State University, and eighteen year old freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) rolls up in his Oldsmobile to the derelict two story house he will be share with innumerable other members of the university’s baseball team. Once inside, he finds a garden hose conspicuously running along the floor and up the stairs and into a bedroom where a waterbed threatens to collapse the entire second floor while a few future teammates forgo introductions to simply dress this freshman down. And for a moment, you can see it – you can see the seed being planted for some payoff down the road where the second floor does give way, and where Jake is subjected to all sorts of faux-funny hazing rituals, as if we are on the verge of finding out what “Revenge of the Nerds” might’ve looked like had it taken place exclusively inside the domicile of the Alpha Betas. But if “Everybody Wants Some!!” doesn’t take the higher road, per se, it opts for an alternate route. Later, one of Jake’s teammates employs the phrase “tangents within the framework”, and though he’s describing a favorite record, he might as well be describing the movie itself. Writer/director Richard Linklater’s framework might be constructed from familiar parts, but his tangents within come equipped with so much surreptitious wit.
This isn’t to say that boys will not be boys; these boys are definitely boys, drinking, smoking and busting balls. Oh God, all the ball-busting; this movie’s foremost language is ball-busting, where you either give as good as you get it or start perusing the classifieds for individual housing, and even if it makes you wince, it’s never fake. Linklater simply air drops us into this environment, content to observe rather than aggressively advance a narrative, even as the incomparable Sandra Adair’s editing keeps the proceedings just focused enough. It’s as if the dream once harbored by another Linklater character, “Before Sunrise’s” Jesse Wallace, to create a National Geographic special for people, has sprung to life.
It’s a milieu of machismo, testosterone and, given their identities as baseball players, competitive zealotry, where even a game of Nerf basketball turns fierce, one guy boxing out another guy like it’s Game 7. Occasionally, genuine menace fills the air, such as when Jake finds two housemates in his room, going through his stuff, taking his clothes and a record, a masculine postulating of top dog. Yet, this moment just as quickly dissolves, as all the trash talk does. “We all take turns being the chump around here,” it is explained to Jake. “You just have to accept your chumpification and pass it on,” which is just about the most strikingly accurate bit of frat philosophizing ever put on film.
That viewpoint is tendered by Finnegan, or Finn, if you’d like, played by Glen Powell with an impeccable moustache and an affable charisma, faultlessly conveying a half-enlightenment that only a college upperclassman can possess, espousing b.s. and pearls of wisdom in equal measure. Finn cycles through clothes and affectations, and when Jake runs into a kid he used to know who has gone punk, it is Finn who is most gung-ho about going punk too, changing into a sleeveless shirt and moshing, at least for a few hours. It’s superficial, sure, but in that superficiality is something true, just another college kid trying on a different mask to see how this one fits, which emblemizes so much of “Everybody Wants Some!!” If the team’s home is one ecosystem, they seek out others by way of bars, dance clubs and house parties, not to infiltrate and make a ruckus (though that sometimes happens), but to see what this collegiate subculture is all about.
Finn also fancies himself a ladies’ man, as all these would-be gentleman callers do, which is where the film’s title comes from, one that nods, exclamations point and all, to a Van Halen song not shy about declaring how everybody wants some and, oh yeah, all these guys want some too. Indeed, if this is a National Geographic special for people then a good chunk is devoted to the mating ritual, and it impressively, astutely captures the overwhelming hormonal surge men of this particular age without crossing the line into leering lewdness.
Females mostly go without a voice, only to strategically change as the film winds toward its conclusion, when Jake meets Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a fine arts major appearing at first blush to have nothing in common with her ball-hurling suitor. But that’s the thing, the further the movie progresses the more Jake quietly changes, jettisoning a few of his more adolescent urges for something at least nodding in the direction of potentially burgeoning maturity. He’s intrigued by her, and her by him, which is to say that Linklater gives her a voice, a real voice, even if it’s likely steeped in the lore of the Joni Mitchell poster on her apartment wall because she herself is trying out affectations. When Jake brings along his entire team for a theater party she’s hosting, it’s another moment where another film would have stepped all wrong, but “Everybody Wants Some!!” stays true, where it’s not an attempt to impose your own set of misguided values onto someone else’s but to hear theirs out, a refreshing concept in an ever devolving American cinematic universe of stupidity and closed-mindedness.
And really, that curiosity is as close as the movie ever gets to any kind of epiphany, because this is not peaks and valleys with a triumphant summiting for a conclusion; it’s a lazy river, like the one Jake and Beverly swim in just a few hours before class starts, winding toward some destination that’s still a long, long way off.