Indie giant John Sayles once told the story of being approached by studio executives in the wake of his Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. When questioned about his next project, he demurred, but when they pushed for an answer, he began to describe Men With Guns. After about thirty seconds of the pitch, the execs cut him off to say they weren’t interested.
Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! isn’t exactly Men With Guns–it doesn’t deliberately push mainstream audiences away–but neither is it the follow up to Boyhood that I was hoping for.
It is, to be sure, a retreat to familiar territory–one that should please fans of Slacker and Dazed and Confused more than those (like me) who hoped that those films were stepping stones towards a more artistic vision. The catalog at SXSW describes Everybody Wants Some!! as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, and if it’s been a decade or more since you’ve watched that painful portrayal of high school, I would check it out before screening Linklater’s newest.
In both films Linklater has a perfect idea for period detail–the hair, the clothes, the music–but the films are too listless to tap into any joyful nostalgia and too narcissistic to come across as social critique.
Maybe it’s a Texas thing, but the drugs, the casual bullying, the objectification of women that may have been normal in the 80s struck me as much more problematic and distasteful than it apparently did to the premiere crowd at the Paramount theater. It’s hard for me to watch the hazing in Dazed and Confused and not see distant kinship to Hot Girls Wanted. The locker room shenanigans of Everybody are a little to reminiscent of a case involving a recently retired NFL superstar to be shrugged off as meaningless schoolboy fun.
Is it meant to be? The ticking clock counting down to the first class may as well be labelled “the end of childhood.” So what we are looking at is the a three day interlude between the end of freedom from responsibility and the beginning of shirking it.
All of this might be pathos-laden if there were any indication that our boys were meant (or even want) better things. A key scene late in the film suggests that freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) has (to paraphrase John Cusack in High Fidelity) actually read some books and maybe even understood them. Is it meant to signal that college will have a negative effect on his development? That his previous attempts to find meaning in life and work were trite vestiges of a brainwashed childhood?
There is, of course, a swath of existential despair that runs through many of Linklater’s films. One sees it especially in Jesse’s character in the Before trilogy. But that character at least has the vocabulary and intellect to express his frustration at life’s seeming pointlessness in interesting and engaging ways. Jake is still in the stage of trying to fill a void he is just becoming conscious of with temporary palliatives (sex, drugs, alcohol) he knows will quickly lose their luster. If Everybody Wants Some!! has any particular insight, it may be how quickly we adjust to diminished expectations. Jake’s first foray into the baseball team’s house reveals it as a dump…but the only time the film allows Jake to show disappointment is when a roommate won’t vacate their bedroom so that Jake can have sex.
I enjoyed going to college in the 80s. Maybe it was that I went to a small, liberal-arts college instead of an overgrown party campus. Maybe it was because I remembered it as the beginning of a deeper, fuller, more introspective engagement with life rather than the last gasps of teenage hedonism on someone else’s dole. Heck, maybe the double exclamation point in the title is supposed to denote the too-desperate attempts to fit in that suggest the movie doth protest too much.
I don’t want some. Honestly, I don’t want any of it.