You would think that we as an audience know exactly what to expect from a frat comedy, having seen more than a fair share make their way to the screens, starting with Animal House back in 1978. Fast, loud and surrounding its protagonist with a bevy of cookie-cutter characters, it wastes no time in pushing the adults out so that the rock and roll can blare, the beer and girls can come pouring in, and the party can start. With Everybody Wants Some, however, Richard Linklater chooses to go a different way, sketching out the characters of the people who call the frat their home and the pack-mentality that binds them, without leaving out any of the dazed fun. Staying true to the themes of its spiritual predecessor – Dazed and Confused – this glance back at the ‘80s picks up from the weekend before college, and meanders through the many parties and escapades the team needs to make it to the first day of college.
Everybody Wants Some follows Jake Bradley (Blake Jenner), a freshman joining the Southeast Texas Cherokees college baseball team which doubles as a frat, in 1980s Texas. Greeted by the adrenaline-filled air of the house and the upperclassmen behaviour of McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), Roper (Ryan Guzman) and Finnegan (Glen Powell), he soon learns that being in the team means a social life of partying, flirting and breaking just about the only two rules of the house. Joining along with him are three other freshmen and two transfer students, the philosophical stoner Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) and the hot-headed Jay (Juston Street), all of whom feel their egos at constant competition with each other, having been respectively the best where they came from. The film lasts the length of the weekend right before classes begin, and follows the pack as they cruise around campus, host a drunken party, pick up girls at clubs, and ultimately get around to playing a little baseball.
Like any other Linklater film, it is not hard to pinpoint the director’s tropes in Everybody Wants Some, the most significant of which is the lack of an intended destination for the plot, allowing more room for the characters to be drawn out, and making for an incredibly natural, human experience. By not restricting the happenings within the film to an overarching story, Linklater sidesteps the fallacy of most frat comedies that depict their characters as stereotypes with a two-track mind of beer and women. Instead, he is able to take them through the familiar beats of a realistic college weekend, and through all the small moments of competition, insults and conversation, is able to explore the distinct shades of each character without having them tell us in so many words. Placed alongside his previous films Dazed and Confused and Boyhood, it forms a thematic trilogy of growing up and passing through the various phases of the human experience, critically observing and indulging at the same time. Jake was Mitch from Dazed and Confused, the scared kid entering high school and learning the ways of older teens; he was Mason from Boyhood, the young individual still discovering himself, and entering the first day of college. What Everybody Wants Some pulls off is connecting the writer-director’s other two films about adolescence, weaving a universal tale of the many phases our life transitions through.
A director who values personal stories, it is in casual and seemingly aimless conversation that he finds the relationships of people manifest, and as a consequence, this high regard finds itself manifested in the screenplay that is down-to-earth and flows effortlessly from frat-party to pitching practice. More than anything else, what Everybody Wants Some does with its unique treatment is break the conventional character moulds in ensemble films, replacing ‘film characters’ with humans, each with personalities not tied to a particular archetype, but occupying a wide range of emotions, frustrations and ambitions. Such a detachment from the fantastical world of the silver screen in favour of the real world is made possible by not just the screenplay, but also the risky hand played by Linklater in choosing a cast where the biggest name is perhaps Tyler Hoechlin. By going for a cast of new faces, Everybody Wants Some prevents our minds from attaching pre-conceived notions from their previous films to any actor, and thus starts us off on a clean slate that rewards us with charming, interesting characters. The character flaws of each person within the frat is also laid bare over the course of the weekend, as unexpected circumstances drive them to the insecurities that lie behind the carefully maintained image. This peeling away of the superficial layers to find the human within is most prominently seen in McReynolds and Finnegan, who over the course of their years with the Cherokees have carefully built themselves images of aggressive masculinity. McReynolds, team captain and resident alpha-male, is a proud and competitive sportsman who turns from macho star-player to sore loser with a ping-pong defeat, and Finnegan is the intellectual, smooth and confident in dishing out advice to his fellow players, who throws a fit when someone interrupts his routine. Jumping from one such moment to another, we find ourselves in the position of Jake, perhaps turned off at first by the boisterous and dangerously competitive nature of his teammates, but soon reaching an understanding of the real people and frustrations that lie beneath.
If Everybody Wants Some were to be pinned to a central theme – which it ingeniously avoids by the doing away with concluding revelations – it would have to be the pack mentality of frats and sororities back in the ‘80s. Delivering a character-driven analysis of the dynamics of a group that spends its time drunk, high or picking up girls, it is the alternative to Saturday Night Fever (1977), where Tony Manero and his disco-obsessed friends use their various superficialities to mask their inner ambitions and troubles. Instead of painting pack culture and its many distractions in bad light, Linklater’s film decides that it is not all for the worse, and that the constant competition, insults and partying is a different yet essential experience that challenges each other but still leaves enough room for the rest of one’s persona. It does its job well in bringing the ’80s to life, partying and all, winning us over with its nostalgia that feels less like a retread than a renewed experience. Taking the spirit of Dazed and Confused into the next decade, Everybody Wants Some stays true to the human emotions that come with the end of something past, and the beginning of something new. And with all those tunes from the ’80s playing in the background to the tune of the story, how can one not leave this film with a feeling of having experienced the same beginning, in that charming past?