In many of his films, Richard Linklater focuses on moments in life that are relegated to irrelevance in popular culture. Whether it is the anticlimactic last day of school, or the weekend prior to the start of university, the storylines tend to revolve around those periods of time that are conventionally deemed unworthy of glorification.
It is in this shadowy realm of blurred boundaries that Linklater’s characters best fit. Like real people, the characters cannot be pinned down to clear-cut stereotypes, and we can relate to some of them.
Everybody Wants Some (2016) is an autobiographical account of Linklater’s college experience. The protagonist, Jake, a freshman, is a depiction of Linklater’s pre-enlightenment self: the jock with a poetic and sensitive side that has not yet evolved into the artist depicted by Mason in Boyhood (2014).
The film is set in the year 1980, on the weekend before classes begin at university. After moving into one of the two run-down houses reserved by a Texan college for its nationally ranked baseball team, Jake and his new teammate friends go on a three-day partying binge, punctuated only by lengthy hangout sessions and philosophical discussions.
Richard Linklater’s latest film brings together the personal themes of many of his past films
The film’s relaxed, ‘hang-out’ feel may lead many to misinterpret this as a lack of a plot. Everybody Wants Some is a study of the social dynamics between its characters; a portrayal of a certain energy and wit that is a part and parcel of being a college athlete. It also serves to dispel the stereotype of the dumb jock.
At the forefront of this attempt is a witty character named Finnegan, a senior whom Jake looks up to as a role model. It is hard to ignore the literary reference to James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake, especially seeing that the character in the film has a tendency to talk endlessly, at times making things up as he goes along, calling it a “jazz improv”. Yet Linklater has left it to the audience to form their own judgments on Finnegan. Is he a philosopher, or is he just another cocky athlete solely interested in chasing skirt – or is he both?
In a February 2016 interview with Austin Monthly, actor Glenn Powell, who plays Finnegan, recalls Linklater telling him “This should be a character that nobody has seen on screen before.” According to Powell, Finnegan has “accumulated all this wisdom where a lot of these guys have just been focused on baseball and girls.”
The audience sees the world through Jake’s eyes. A partially hostile world, where seniors may at first seem condescending, but later reveal admirable and genuine traits. One such senior is Roper, who is the natural leader of the pack and a buddy of Finnegan’s. The constant friction and competition that underlies the best of friendships is apparent in the body language between Roper and Finnegan when they are at a local disco called the Sound Machine and later in the dugout during baseball practice.
Willoughby is the resident hippie who doesn’t buy into his teammates’ sense of entitlement. The film takes an unexpected turn when the university administration discovers that Willoughby is faking his identity and is in fact much older than the rest. His abrupt departure only adds to the realism and mystery. It creates a sense of a sinister world outside the college bubble. Such parallel plots and themes are essentially hidden treasures.
Even the characters with minor roles aren’t without their depth. Hillbilly freshman Bill Autrey, who is the butt of everybody’s jokes throughout the film, stands his ground – perhaps even more so than the protagonist. A locker room prank that Jake easily falls for does not work on Autrey, who eloquently dismisses it as “One of them old ‘Finnanegans’.”
The appearance of Justin, Jake’s high school baseball teammate-turned-punk, is of significance in that Justin somewhat represents the path Linklater went down after his sophomore year. Justin, we learn, is a former high school baseball player who has chosen a bohemian lifestyle and punk ideology over popular culture.
When Justin tells Jake about how free he is of all constraints “now that I’m not playing on a team anymore, or doing anything particularly respectable,” Jake, who has an artistic side, can relate to this. He silently gazes at his friend, somewhat in awe of his courage to be able to break free of social pressures. In a March 2016 interview with Collider.com, Linklater mentioned “that the ’80s drove me underground.” After Linklater was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia in his sophomore year and could no longer pursue his Major League dreams, he turned to the arts — writing and theatre.
Linklater’s interest in the arts is reflected in Jake’s interaction with Beverly, a theatre major, to whom he takes a liking. During their lengthy conversations, Beverly, in an almost mantra-like assertion says she wants to move to New York after she graduates, to pursue a career in theatre. Here, fans will be reminded of Suze, a character in another Linklater film Suburbia(1996), whose ambition of moving to New York to pursue a career in art is a bone of contention between her and her boyfriend Geoff.
The trailers and posters for Everybody Wants Some marketed the film as a “spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.” Yet fans will find that Everybody Wants Some has little or no similarities to Dazed, in tone or in any other respect; nor do the soundtracks have anything in common.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 4th, 2016