Released in 2016, Everybody Wants Some!! is described in its DVD marketing as ‘the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused’. In some respects, this is fairly accurate. Albeit with a gap of a few years, the film seems to begin where its predecessor left off. Both films focus on a point of transition – in this case, an in-between space over four days just before the start of the college term in 1980. This is also an ensemble comedy, and while the main characters are not the same as in the earlier film, they could easily be seen as the next generation. Once again, the group is far from culturally diverse: both films have a single token black character.
However, there are some important differences. Everybody Wants Some!! focuses more closely on a single lead character, Jake, who is present in almost every scene. The leading characters are all male: they are all members of the college baseball team, living in what are effectively a couple of fraternity houses. There is only one significant female character, Beverly, who is Jake’s love interest. Unlike Dazed and Confused, the film also presents a narrative of personal progress: Jake moves on from the sexism of his team-mates and into a more conventional romance.
In the opening scenes, along with the freshman Jake, we are gradually introduced to the team. Across the first three days, the characters are shown hanging out, playing cards and computer games, smoking dope and drinking, going out to discos and gigs, chatting up, dancing and having sex with girls, and eventually taking part in pre-season baseball training. To a greater extent than in Dazed and Confused, several of the characters are essentially comic ‘types’: there is the ‘weirdo’ who always loses bets, the hippy who expounds on Carl Sagan’s theory of the universe, the innocent ‘hayseed’ who is the butt of everybody’s jokes, the psychotic pitcher, and so on. The more central characters are less stereotypical, but each of them is endowed with a fixed set of defining characteristics: one is adept at using feminist lines to chat up girls, another is an overly competitive ‘alpha male’, another is conventional and prone to fall asleep at any moment, and so on. Meanwhile, Jake himself seems almost devoid of such defining (and potentially alienating) characteristics.
Like its predecessor, the film is rich in finely observed period detail; although again, it would not be fair to describe it as merely nostalgic. Four years on from Dazed and Confused, the ultra-short shorts and flares have become more revealing, and are accompanied (for the males) by loud disco shirts. The hair is bigger and more bouffant, and many of the male characters sport moustaches. In one notable sequence, the team members are seen preening themselves ready for a night out, blow-drying their mullets, trimming their facial hair, slapping on cologne, and admiring their own butts in figure-hugging flares: ‘chicks dig this shit’, they assure each other. As in Dazed and Confused, there are loving close-ups of pinball and now Space Invader machines; and once again the extensive musical soundtrack has been very carefully selected. Through a series of accidents and misfortunes, the team are seen attending first a Saturday Night Fever-style disco, then a Country-and-Western bar, and then a punk gig, allowing for some detailed observation of a range of contemporary styles. One early scene features five of the team in the car rapping along to ‘Rappers’ Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang (in a manner parodied so well in Wayne’s World); and this is developed in a further rap over the closing credits. As with Dazed and Confused, the film combines affectionate nostalgia with knowing irony and gentle ridicule in a way that is stereotypically (and now very predictably) postmodernist.
However, Everybody Wants Some!! is also a more polished and conventional film than its predecessor. The film cuts rapidly between short scenes, but there is much less of the improvisational feel that Dazed and Confused inherited from Slacker. Much of the film comes across as a succession of set-piece scenes and quotable lines, most of which are overtly played for laughs. As I’ve implied, several of the secondary characters seem to have walked out of a TV sit-com; and some of the ensemble sequences (the frat house party, complete with mud-wrestling, the fight at the disco, the practical jokes and hazing rituals) seem to owe a good deal to gross-out comedies like the Animal House and Porkys franchises. This isn’t to say it isn’t funny – at times, it is quite hilarious. But it is as if Linklater is trying a little too hard to repeat the success of his earlier film for an audience of cult fans, rather than adding anything new. One might even say that the sardonic retro teen movie has become a kind of formula, for which audiences themselves have become nostalgic. Of course, at least some of the potential audience itself has also got older, along with Linklater himself. Dazed and Confused is set just 17 years after its year of release, offering the potential for some of its viewers (thirty-somethings, perhaps) to pick up on its cultural references and to recall their own high-school years. By contrast, in 2016, one would have to be well into one’s fifties to have experienced the college life portrayed in its successor.
For contemporary reviewers, the most problematic aspect of Everybody Wants Some!! was to do with gender – and here the film picks up a thread that has run throughout all the films I have discussed. As I’ve noted, all the leading characters (aside from Jake’s love interest) are male, and we have little option but to take their perspective: this is evident right from the start, as Jake drives on to campus with the raunchy anthem ‘My Sherona’ playing on his 8-track, and the point-of-view camera zooms in on the bodies of the girls he passes. Much of the film’s humour derives from typically masculine banter, with its edgy combination of witty put-downs and homophobic competitiveness. The leading British critic Mark Kermode was not alone in expressing his exasperation with the ‘jock mentality’ on display, arguing that it was both ‘creepy’ and ‘retrograde’ in terms of sexual politics. He argues that (unlike many of Linklater’s other films), the film fails to offer a strong female perspective, or to critique or ‘unpick’ the sexism of the male characters; and he suggests that the veneer of retro irony might do little more than provide an alibi for this.
I sympathise with Kermode’s argument to some extent: like him, I find it tiresome (and ultimately rather boring) to spend a great deal of time in the company of the kind of people whom I was keen to avoid during my own university years. However, I don’t think one can accuse the film of merely wallowing in a time before ‘political correctness’ – even with the easy cop-out of irony. The film does seem to me to be rather more critical of its leading characters, or at least of their group behaviour, than Kermode suggests. Indeed, one could read the first hour of the film (at least) as a kind of expose of ‘hegemonic masculinity’. The characters are variously portrayed, not just as likeable and funny, but also as vain, superficial, stupid and arrogant. Rather than merely endorsing their single-minded pursuit of ‘college pussy’, the film casts a dispassionate eye on their juvenile obsession with penis size and their pursuit of throwaway sex. Such behaviour is partly excused – one of the team assures Jake, ‘this is college, man – the girls can be as big sluts as the guys’ – but it is also later contrasted with the more meaningful relationship of Jake and Beverly.
This section of the film culminates in an extended sequence in which the characters are shown hanging out on the day before their first baseball practice. They compete pathologically over everything: not just table-tennis, darts, computer games and ‘knuckles’, but also their taste in music, their in-depth knowledge of The Twilight Zone, and who can inhale the largest toke of weed. True to form for Linklater, this cannot pass without commentary: as one of the characters notes, this kind of competitiveness is difficult for star athletes to avoid – ‘you get a bunch of competitors together, and you’re addicted to winning’. Once again, the young men’s behaviour is to some extent excused, as it is in later comments about the value of ‘team play’; but it is none the less observed with a kind of distanced, almost anthropological eye. In the following scene, one of the more stupid members of the team wonders aloud about the meaningless existence of those who go through life ‘knowing they’ll never play pro ball’: the irony is clearly at the athletes’ expense.
As this implies, the film might be seen to have its cake and eat it in this respect: it allows us to sympathise with its characters, to see the world through their eyes, but it also distances us from them, and allows the possibility of a more critical, or at least dispassionate view. Where it falters, in my view, is in the romantic storyline that comes to dominate the final half hour. Beverly first appears in an early scene when she talks back to the team’s sexist chat-up lines; and Jake later leaves her flowers and a romantic note. Beverly, it emerges, is a Theatre Studies major; and unlike a great many of the characters in these films, she seems to be almost entirely lacking in a sense of irony about herself. She talks enthusiastically about her studies, and Jake seems to accept this at face value. Even when the team later attends a Theatre majors’ party, there is little sense that such people are being shown as pretentious or ridiculous. Jake’s romance with Beverly is portrayed as serious and meaningful in a way that the team’s earlier hook-ups with party girls are not. He is even shown discussing Greek mythology with her, and talking about how baseball represents a source of meaning in life; and she observes in response, ‘it’s kind of beautiful… that we get to feel passion in this world’. On the final day, as Jake sits down to his first class, a professor enters and writes on the blackboard: ‘frontiers are wherever you find them’. While Jake merely settles down to sleep, one suspects that this kind of trite, sententious message would have received a more robust and cynical response from some of the cast of Linklater’s earlier film – although admittedly there are small elements of ‘true romance’ in Dazed and Confused as well.
Everybody Wants Some!! is thus simultaneously a celebration and a retrospective critique of a certain form of masculinity. This is to its credit: Linklater is not only concerned to show the limitations of such behaviour, but also to understand its appeal. It would have been much easier merely to condemn the characters, or make them suffer some kind of punishment or come-uppance for their bad deeds. Yet the film’s eventual shift in tone could be seen as a failure of nerve – or at least a capitulation to a much more conventional coming-of-age narrative.