Both unhurried and nimble, Richard Linklater’s beguiling concoction of breathless immaturity and stunted, off-hand maturity worships an altar of “just one more midnight hang-sesh doing nothing in particular”, an event that is elevated in import within Everybody Wants Some!! precisely because of how acquainted with the passing nature of youth the film seems to be. The film’s aimless, untamed, rowdy structure of bedlam-before-linearity cheerfully replicates the constant blood rush of avoiding your future that embodies the daily lexicon of the Southeast Texas State University baseball squad of 1980. But they aren’t the event-instigating, virile, social-agent protagonists of the tale so much as the byproducts of social tumult and the circumstantial nature of chance. Accused of a sort of masculine bro-ish bravado in some circles, and not inaccurately I might add, Linklater’s film is also notable for how painfully it recognizes how deeply unspecial its main characters are.
Rather than following the contours of American cinematic storytelling to a T and developing the baseball players as instigators of a grand social opera, Linklater’s screenplay – and his pandemic-instigating directing style – dethrones both its male protagonists and the norms of individualist power-fantasy storytelling that have tacitly asserted the dominance of males throughout Western history. Rather than molding kings-in-the-making or reprobates out of the team – composed of naive Jake (Blake Jenner), cock-sure McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), womanizer Finn (Glen Powell), self-styled pot-philosopher Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), and chill, welcoming Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), as well as others – the script casts them as a group of dudes perilously swirling around in a cocktail of emptiness and satisfaction.
Although the film enjoins itself into the revelry of halcyon days and unfermented, uncouth sugarplum visions of a time in Linklater’s youth, it also insinuates the failure of all these young dudes to truly carry the news of their lives into the future. Smitten with the present-tense, Everybody Wants Some!! envisions narrative ambitions, both for people and films, as unsure, unstable ground. On one hand, the future serves as a penitentiary that fails to stop the invasive chaos of moment-to-moment everyday life. On the other, it can be the only, if false, catalyst for ensuring the future these young men take for granted as coming to them. The glory of the moment, sweetly refracted through Bill Curtis’ luxuriant, pastel production design and a flurry of phallus-swinging party tunes from the era, is redoubtable but not unbreakable in Everybody Wants Some!!. Linklater never stages an out-and-out inquisition of his characters’ failure to conjure anything more than chimeras or false visions for their futures, but the prophetic, fictitious rosiness of their dreams are intimated in the gee-shucks innocence of the film’s batty, cheekily nostalgic artifice.
Specifically, the ever-game insouciance with which the film injects itself with various sub-cultures and identities for the baseball team to tentatively interact with conjures new possible visions of the characters’ own identities around every corner, watching as they test out their malleable selfhoods in the process. Ultimately, the performative, role-playing gambits of everyday life become a sort of plucky disarray and a game for Linklater, constructed with a set of flexible but not shatter-able strategies and regulations as dynamic and meaningful as the Space Invaders tips phlegmatically dished out by the characters. The ever-changing arcade machine of life itself provides ample opportunity for the characters to engage with their inner party animals, fewer opportunities to truly develop the lasting connections everyone clearly pines for under their breath, and little to no regulations for how to actually transition in-the-moment enjoyment into a spiritual-guide for life itself.
In the end, the wafting, slippery slope between wistful longing for a more meaningful life and the rebellious, incandescent, endorphin-chasing highs becomes a commentary in itself – much like in Dazed and Confused – on the tenuous grasp we all hold on our own present tenses, as well as the washing machine of life we reside in. Bitter respites intermingle with kinetic highs – enlivened by graphic matches, cuts-on-action, and screwball-esque verbal sparring and physical rampaging through a screen that frequently resorts to “open framing” where characters can move in and out without direction. The slurry of interaction between the two paces forms a sort of tone-poem to ends and beginnings as one in the same; moods exist not as diametric opposites but as overlapping feuds for control of the mind.
For Linklater, the best we can sometimes hope for is to cherish the fleeting “tangents”, as Willoughby laconically puts it, distracted by and educated through his favorite professor-in-rolling-paper. Everybody Wants Some!! is a film of tangents threatening narrative, haunting progress, and ultimately galvanizing the framework of life with momentary flashes of meaning that don’t conform to the stepping stones we may or may not have allotted ourselves. Much like the films of Mike Leigh, Linklater prefers hanging around his characters and suggesting connections and contradictions rather than threshing his characters through a story; he lets them linger in the horizontal spaces of life, while also surreptitiously suggesting the liquid demeanor of these spaces we never truly command.
Dedicating so much of its time to constructing homogeneous characters and then whittling away the similarities to discover – seemingly by the minute – the lived-in, prismatic people underneath, Everybody Wants Some!! is primarily an ode to the failure of narrative singularity to encompass the beautiful chaos, difference, and complication of life. Although baseball initially seems the totem around which the film gathers, Linklater’s real desire is to reveal flickers of distinct personalities both within the team and among other groups, casually suggesting that the structures around which we build-up our lives are always only partially in control of our full identities and that other possibilities, other identities, other activities of equal validity skulk around every corner. That these boys are “unspecial” is not a statement of derision, but a palpable, sublime reminder that making them special inherently sacrifices all the other perspectives and personalities floating around them. Because no one is special, everyone is.
As such, Linklater is one of the few quasi-mainstream American directors redirecting the focus of cinema away from the frost ray of individualist, character-growth, Enlightenment-engulfed storytelling and into the more nebulous, unknown, stimulating realms of interstitial places between characters, social milieu, and space and place as communicative, collective constructs that do not revolve around atomized individuals. Admittedly, opening the door to independent American directors and any variety of international cinema sets the floodgates notably ajar, creating a cascading intrusion of talents doing everything Linklater is doing (and in the case of Everybody Wants Some!!, notably more). Still though, that doesn’t have to make the achievements of Everybody Wants Some!!, which ropes knotty, snotty arcade-style momentum with more off-handed, casual, delightfully unpremeditated moments of deceptive thoughtfulness, any less notable.