Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! is being billed as a “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 high-school stoner classic Dazed and Confused, but in some key ways it feels closer to his animated 2001 philosophy bull session Waking Life — a freewheeling grab bag of ideas, ruminations, and loose ends held together by the director’s generous sensibility. Or maybe the new film is the missing link between the two, turning these apparently disparate works into a continuum, a journey between checking out, self-knowledge, and transcendence. That might seem like a lot of weight to put on a movie that is, at least on its surface, about a bunch of college baseball players trying to get laid. But Linklater's great talent is to remain light on his feet while drifting into the metaphysical — to balance the earthly with the profound, and to find the people somewhere in between.
There are certainly a lot of people in Everybody Wants Some!!, and Linklater does a fine job keeping them all in play. The nominal protagonist is Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher who has just arrived at Southeast Texas University in September 1980 to live in a rundown house with his teammates. His newfound crew of bros ranges from drawling innocent Billy Autrey (Will Brittain), to mustachioed weirdo Jay Niles (Juston Street), to friendly stoner Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), to sneering senior Glenn (Tyler Hoechlin). Chief among them is the philosopher-hedonist Finnegan (Glen Powell, fantastic), who chatters on endlessly — the latest addition to Linklater’s roster of lovable blowhards.
It’s the weekend before school starts, and as the young men explore their living situation and go cruising for chicks, their back-and-forth is playfully evocative. “No dorm-resident snitches kicking your ass,” one exclaims about their off-campus house. “No centralized authority!” And later, when beautiful co-ed Beverly (Zoey Deutch) rejects the advances of the older players and instead shows some attention to Jake: “She was using you, a peasant, to fuck with the kings!” This isn’t just meant to be colorful dialogue. In every exchange, every conversation, you sense these kids’ words flirting with greater meaning — sometimes even unwittingly. It’s as if the world and all it contains is just beginning to open itself up to them.
The film is structured around a series of parties and club visits, with the music constantly shifting — from disco, to New Wave, to punk, to metal, to country — as the characters dance and gab away (Linklater seems to have captured a moment when practically every genre of pre–hip-hop pop was in.) In the ballplayers’ interactions, we observe an ongoing tension between the collective and the individual. These guys travel in a pack yet they’re eager to distinguish themselves — understandable, as some of them will eventually be cut from the team.
Finnegan likes to tell girls that he has an “average” penis, because “it’s a relief from all the guys talking about how huge their cocks are.” Willoughby gets properly baked and discourses on chord progressions in rock songs: “It’s about finding the tangents within the framework. Therein lies the artistry, man.” They discuss the best methods to smoke a bong and come up with more and more creative ways to imbibe alcohol. At one point, Jake notes, “Have you noticed everything we do is a competition?” The response: “This is why we’re one of the best teams in the nation!”
But as Everybody Wants Some!! proceeds, the tone switches from the ribbing and hazing and carousing of young men to something more questioning. As their musical horizons expand and they come into contact with their college town’s other subcultures, the ballplayers become more and more comfortable with ruminating on their place in the universe; in one of the film’s few stylistic flourishes, a crane shot follows two of them into a hardcore club, finally joining in the mosh pit. Jake gets together with Beverly, an aspiring theater major who intends to go to New York right after college, and reveals to her that he wrote an essay about the Greek myth of Sisyphus.
One of his teammates, it turns out, has been hiding his identity and his real age: He’s in fact 30 years old, and has been going around to schools in the hope of remaining in this in-between moment, when he can play ball and stay half-formed, neither child nor man. This echoes Matthew McConaughey’s famous “I get older; they stay the same age” observation about high-school girls from Dazed and Confused — only this time the occasion is less humorous and more existential and pathetic.
Everybody Wants Some!! is a surprisingly dense movie; it may take place over the course of a weekend, but Linklater seems to have packed an entire college career’s worth of self-discovery into it. There’s no real room for story, but we’re carried along by the energy of the conversations as they trend further toward the speculative, the unknowable. The experience of watching this film is one of reflective exuberance. It’s a movie about people who arrive sure of themselves and depart in the quiet confidence that all they know is that they know nothing.