Major League Baseball returns this week. There is nothing like the arrival of a new season, timed to coincide with the inviting sunshine of spring, to fill one’s heart with hope and excitement. The helmets are shiny, not a disgusting buildup of pine tar on a single one. Heroes are about to be made. Arriving on cinema screens at the same time is director Richard Linklater’s new comedy Everybody Wants Some, a raunchy reminiscence of life among college baseball players in pre-AIDS 1980. It’s here to remind us that baseball players are rarely heroes. They’re usually just unfunny jerks, entitled and annoying. Thanks a lot, Dick.
Everybody Wants Some is set in south Texas over the course of the final 72 hours before classes start. Blake Jenner’s freshman pitcher arrives at the off-campus house where all of the ballplayers stay. The next three days are spent drinking and forming a makeshift family of male camaraderie built on a strong foundation of belittling one another and chasing tail. He also attempts to transcend his cohorts’ endless string of meaningless conquests by wooing a sophomore drama student. It’s a hollow sort of relationship in an entirely shallow film.
The biggest problems with Linklater’s last two pictures, Boyhood and now Everybody Wants Some, is that far too often they are painted in broad strokes. Give me Arnaud Desplechin’s recent My Golden Days over this banality any day. The approaches of the two filmmakers couldn’t be more different. There is a specificity to Desplechin’s work that manages to be more inviting and relatable than seeing a world comprised entirely of brash, confident, young men who are only concerned with getting laid. The characters in Everybody Wants Some rarely rise above their surface-level stereotypes. There’s the wise stoner, the naive bumpkin, the fun-loving meathead.
This broadness even separates Everybody Wants Some from its “spiritual” predecessor, the ’70s-set slice of high school life, Dazed and Confused. There is no character in Dazed and Confused remotely like Juston Street’s cartoon buffoon, Jay, a clueless hothead pitcher who preens and pouts his way through increasingly desperate situations. The character would fit better in something like Wet Hot American Summer. And don’t get me wrong, I like Wet Hot American Summer. But that movie is funny. Everybody Wants Some traffics in dick jokes that repeatedly fail to connect.
Despite writing more one-note roles this time around, the extremely delicate art of casting remains an area where Linklater continues to shine. Working with a group of mostly unknowns, he fashions a deep roster of promising young talent. The troop of actors in Everybody Wants Some rivals the absolutely stacked cast of Dazed and Confused. If Glen Powell, who plays the loquacious Finnegan, doesn’t become as famous as Ben Affleck or Matthew McConaughey then the whole game is rigged.
Between Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some the benchmark in pre-Reagan nostalgic storytelling came on the small screen with Paul Feig’s Freaks and Geeks, yet another production with a stellar ensemble. No one familiar with that groundbreaking program can watch the guys in Everybody Wants Some go to a punk rock show midway through the film without comparing it unfavorably to the episode where James Franco tests out the punk lifestyle. In Everybody Wants Some there is even a self-awareness in the dialogue that the characters are trying on different guises, just like Franco’s Daniel Dessario. But instead of searching for a truth that speaks to them, they just want to tap some punk pussy.
Fuck all of these people. But like, don’t fuck them because then they win. They always win.
Linklater’s body of work will certainly be remembered for its commitment to chronicling the different developmental epochs that make up the lives of American males. But it’s time he leave adolescence alone, stunted or otherwise. It has been diminishing returns ever since the one-two punch of Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It’s no coincidence that the best of his most recent films, Before Midnight, is the film that focuses on adults, something Linklater himself has been for quite some time, even if he is afraid to admit it.