Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” is being positioned as the “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed and Confused,” the director’s exuberant 1993 ode to high school life in the 1970s. As this modest, sneakily affecting ensemble comedy plays out, though, it feels more of a piece with “Boyhood,” Linklater’s blink-of-a-life portrait of young man coming of age that came thisclose to winning the best picture Oscar last year.
The final scene of “Boyhood,” viewers will remember, featured the film’s protagonist arriving for his first day at college; as “Everybody Wants Some!!” opens, a freshman baseball player named Jake (Blake Jenner) is cruising to Southeast Texas University while “My Sharona” plays in the background. The year is 1980, a fact confirmed by the tube socks, short shorts, Selleck ‘staches and other period-specific artifacts that festoon the movie like so much Christmas tinsel.
Jake fetches up at an off-campus house that’s been designated for the baseball team, a dusty, bare-bones firetrap where he will live in fraternity-like, beered-up bliss with his new brothers-in-arms. “Everybody Wants Some!!” takes place over three days, during which Jake will bond with his new friends, chase girls and explore the sundry sub-cultures of his new world, in an ecstatic loop of party-recover-repeat.
“Everybody Wants Some!!” shares some obvious genetic material with college sex-and-drugs comedies, starting with “Animal House” and ending somewhere around “Neighbors.” But Linklater is too sensitive, curious and forgiving a filmmaker to content himself with simply adding another bleary-eyed bacchanal to the canon. Working with his longtime editor Sandra Adair, he develops an easy rhythm to Jake’s tentative, vicariously giddy journey: What in other hands is so often forced into a coarse, off-putting burlesque of young adulthood here takes on the far sweeter contours of self-discovery and exhilarating possibility.
It’s a stretch to call “Everybody Wants Some!!” deep – Linklater indulges in a fair number of ogling T&A shots of nubile blonde co-eds, and the film’s episodic structure isn’t particularly ambitious. But within that simplicity, he finds moments of disarming humanity, especially when it comes to male insecurity, ritualized affiliation and aggression and the fragile anxieties and hopes that curl, tendril-like, around a newfound identity.
In Linklater’s idealized world, AIDS hasn’t yet arrived on the scene, and homicidal hazing practices and campus sexual assault are dim notions, at best. No one gets hurt in “Everybody Wants Some!!,” in which Jake and his buddies engage in time-honored competitions to establish status, then circle back for some strutting, old-fashioned tush-slapping. In addition to Jenner, Linklater has assembled a wonderful crew of young, little-known actors to portray Jake’s new friends, including Glen Powell as a pipe-smoking Kerouac fan; Tyler Hoechlin as the team’s alpha male; and Wyatt Russell as a pot-head pitcher from California who recalls Matthew McConaughey’s superannuated stoner in “Dazed and Confused.”
“Dazed” fans expecting Linklater to rebottle that film’s singular lightning might need to adjust their expectations: “Everybody Wants Some!!” doesn’t possess the same uncanny feeling of a movie getting a time and place exactly right. This version of the past feels more dressed-out and done-up, but that doesn’t detract from its lyrical, gently evocative pleasures. Linklater has created another affectionate nostalgia trip for the generation that grew up to Led Zeppelin and came of age to “Rapper’s Delight,” at a time before fierce fragmentation set in with technological and tribal rigidity.
As small and specific as it is, “Everybody Wants Some!!” feels improbably expansive, even universal. As Jake’s endless Friday night turns into the inevitable Monday morning, it turns out that his lost weekend was all about being found.
Three stars. Rated R. Contains profanity throughout, sexual content, drug use and some nudity. 116 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.