Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Dir. Richard Linklater. Starring Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Temple Baker

In my experience, there is no species of jock as endlessly arrogant as baseball players. I can’t adequately explain why that is despite having played some kind of baseball for nearly fifteen years. Part of it absolutely is in the highly individualized nature of the sport. Baseball can be read entirely as a series of mano à mano competitions: pitcher against hitter, fielder against runner. When Jake (Jenner) tells Beverly (Zoey Deutch) at the end of the movie that he related baseball to the Myth of Sisyphus, he’s not wrong. Jake looks for meaning in the task as a metaphor. I think Sisyphus and baseball connect much more neatly on the subject of expected failure; Sisyphus is of course doomed to fail much longer than any hitter is doomed to do, but the greatest players in the history of the sport can’t get a hit more than three and a half times out of ten. Rockets are snared out of the sky, squared-up pitches are fouled back, a pitcher tricks you and you’ve finished your swing by the time a curveball lands in the catcher’s mitt. After a while, Sisyphus must have expected the rock to fall back down the hill; a hitter must expect to fail far more often than he succeeds. Yet Sisyphus and the baseball players at this Texan university have something else in common: hubris. Sisyphus was condemned to push that boulder uphill because of his vanity and pride. McReynolds (Hoechlin) and Finn (Powell) and Roper (Ryan Guzman) will eventually need to contend with their own hubris. The music plays for everyone and the lights dim. The god of the Underworld shows up with a rock, a mountain, and instruction manual. Cocky baseball players are no exception. Linklater has never been able to get Time out of his mind; there are some scenes in this film that hold up well against similarly oriented chats in the Before movies and Boyhood. Even if Everybody Wants Some!! looks at time through a significantly narrower peephole than its predecessors, its characters seem to understand their shelf lives. Of everyone on the team, the only serious pro prospect is McReynolds; everyone else is, essentially, not much more than a system try-hard. The movie’s tagline is spoken by Willoughby (Wyatt Russell, who looks like his dad if they’d set The Thing in Nacogdoches instead of the South Pole), who coolly says “We came for a good time, not a long time.”

Everybody Wants Some!! (I swear if they’d gone with the original title, That’s What I’m Talking About, this movie would have doubled its take) doesn’t have to pay a lot of mind during the movie to the inevitable fates of its characters, even if the axe of being a regular guy is hanging over their ball-playing necks. It’s the long weekend before the start of classes at Southeast Texas University, beginning from when Jake, blasting “My Sharona” from the tapedeck in his car, lands at the baseball house to the time he sleepily ambles into his first class. Nor does it have to pay a lot of mind to the baseball players on the team, who for all of their horoscope-level differences are all basically gradations on the same person. Willoughby likes weed more than beer and has a copy of Cosmos; one of them looks like a blonde Rollie Fingers and parties like Dock Ellis; “hostile country boy,” “lame butt of the jokes guy,” “generic freshman,” “the token black guy,” “the loudmouth,” “the clinically unstable,” and a few more are thrown into the mix. There’s not a new character in the bunch, least of all Jake. Blake Jenner used to be on Glee, and the character he’s playing is two-thirds Cory Monteith’s cluelessly puppyish jock and one-third Mark Salling’s prowling hairdo.

The only person in this movie who seems to be somewhere outside the bounds of the regular sports movie, even though this is barely a sports movie, is Finn. Powell, of course, is playing Ethan Hawke. Because Linklater so often makes movies about young people who treat every discovery like a reenactment of Plymouth Rock, or perhaps because having to talk through the bounds of their thinking makes his ideas seem trite, Finn feels particularly audacious. Because he’s a veteran on the team, he appears to have more leeway to say what he thinks about baseball, the universe, and everything. He is an instigator who is so skillful that he rarely has to do more than think loudly to get a rise out of somebody else. Like every other player on the team, he’s sure that he’s God’s gift to womankind; unlike every other player on the team, he tries to market himself as just another guy. I have no idea how he survived his own freshman year, but however he did it has only made him more boisterous in the long term. Only once is he at a loss. He’s at a party with the rest of the team (a party which I was sure they would obliterate, but shame on me, I misjudged them) and is talking to an attractive coed (Jessi Mechler, last seen in Boyhood as, you guessed it, an attractive coed) who’s deeply into astrology. Finn has a gift for getting hazily drunk girls to believe that he is interested in what interests them, and has the improv player’s skill at picking up on his opposite number’s signals. Unfortunately, he does not expect his teammates to burst in on this conversation and blow his cover. He storms out, complaining about how when they’re playing baseball they talk about girls, and now that there are some “potentially interesting young women,” they’re back on baseball. His voice cracks and he continues walking away. His teammates, a little uncharitably, continue busting the team’s most effective ball-buster from a distance, imitating his pubescent screech. It’s wonderful not necessarily because Finn deserves comeuppance (and if he does, it’s certainly not his teammates who should have the pleasure of doing so), but because comeuppance can come for any of these guys at any time.

The branding (ugh) for this movie is terrible; if every movie ever made about young people drinking, smoking weed, and looking for sex is supposed to be Dazed and Confused, then we’re in real trouble. This is not Dazed and Confused. Dazed and Confused is significantly more focused on a single evening while broadening its cast of characters. Dazed and Confused has, rather more importantly, a surplus of girls with names as opposed to one. To me, that’s what keeps Everybody Wants Some!! from moving into elite territory.

(This is off-topic, but it addresses a theme in movie criticism that I don’t fully understand. I confess to breaking my general rule and reading some reviews of Everybody Wants Some!!, positive and negative alike, and I’m a little puzzled by the frustration with Linklater returning to white people in Texas over and over again. Were people mad at Ingmar Bergman because he kept making movies about bourgeois Swedes? Were people mad at Yasujiro Ozu because he kept making movies about Japanese families in flux? Are people mad at Paul Thomas Anderson because he keeps making movies about obsessive white Californians? I understand—and agree!—that there should be far more airtime for filmmakers who focus on the lives of people of color, but I don’t know that I want Richard Linklater to be that guy. Does anyone really need another redux of The Color Purple from Spielberg?)

It can be oppressively masculine after a while, and despite the sheer number of guys to choose from, the charm fades after seeing them get into a series of similar hijinks. The most interesting person among them is Finn, but the movie isn’t willing to test him or hurt him enough to make him into Jesse in Before Sunrise. Absent that, the aimlessness is compounded with a fraction too much ribbing. The actual baseball in the movie is fairly strong, and it provides a raison d’être for the movie that had been slipping away a little bit. Not every moment has as much meaning as the game of Knuckles between Nesbit (Austin Amelio) and Brumley (Tanner Kalina), a freshman. Nez has been the undisputed Knuckles champion, but Brumley outlasts him. It’s two out of three! the upperclassman shouts. Tomorrow! Finn, looking on with Jake, says this is what a winning team looks like off the field. The guys have to find something to win at, even if it’s dumb.

I was a little worried about the baseball in this movie; there may not be a sport that’s harder for actors to fake, but for the most part they look good. Jenner has a decent motion to the plate. Russell doesn’t. Juston Street, brother of longtime MLB reliever Huston Street and a baseball player himself, knows what he’s doing. (He has one of the toughest parts to act in the movie—he plays that guy who swears he hits 95 on the gun even though there’s no evidence of it whatever, and in the meantime wants to be the baddest guy around. He’s the only guy on the team whose performance feels really forced.) No one is more obviously a good player than Hoechlin, who played college baseball. He has a good lefty swing (and played infield, so you know he’s serious), and his aggressive, ultra-competitive demeanor is absolutely recognizable on any diamond in America. He is what ’40s ballplayers called a “Red Ass,” a guy who intends to win anything he can get his hands on and has no time for people who can’t fathom his burning desire to win. Not only does he enjoy being the best, but he finds ways to rub it in whenever possible. Niles is throwing his actual heat in batting practice; McReynolds effortlessly homers off of him and berates him for putting his ego before the team. Jake beat McReynolds at ping-pong earlier, which the senior cannot forgive the freshman for doing. He takes a strike, tells the catcher to put another one on him just because, and then smacks a double into right, beaming at the newbie from second. Welcome to college ball, he says. In a movie filled with guys one-upping each other, there is no more powerful way to do so than what McReynolds does seemingly without trying.

Zoey Deutch as Beverly represents a possibility that the movie hangs over and occasionally touches but never really tries to dip its whole body into. As our only girl with a semblance of her own personality, let alone a name, she shows us a side of Southeast Texas that was previously absent. The baseball players pretend to be different guys in order to diversify their babe portfolio; over the course of the weekend, the guys go to a disco, a honky-tonk, and, in smaller numbers, a punk show before ultimately dropping in on a gathering of theater kids. Finn, as usual, is the one who recognizes the underlying meaning; people can be more or less what they want to be. It’s all more or less a performance. One night, if you’re trying to bang a girl who likes Parliament and Blondie, you’re a certain kind of guy. If she likes Johnny Lee and John Stewart, then you’re somebody else. It’s just a matter of putting on a different uniform and wandering around in that costume for a minute. At the theater party, Jake seems to personify those chances. For a while he wears a coonskin cap. Later he appears as the White Rabbit for a Dating Game performance that Beverly and some other folks are doing. Around 6 a.m., he and Beverly are sitting in their tubes in a little fishing hole, talking about the myth of Sisyphus on a level that even Finn seems unlikely to care about. Different people, different times, and there’s no effort to find an essential person within them. (God defend the right.)

As Beverly, Deutch is firing on all six cylinders. When the movie is heavily masculine and begins to make the viewer a little queasy, she is a spray of lemon. Jake puts flowers and a little note on her door for the girl with the auburn hair (which he knows is her door thanks to a little bit of creeping); she calls him one morning. They hang out on Sunday afternoon. She is, despite her high school theater and dance background, unpretentious and sensible. Beverly has a thing for her arm ring, which is her one silly vanity. She also accidentally invites Jake over before she’s dressed and done her hair in her trademark loose curl (which is one of the rare relatable college moments in a movie which you’d think would trade exclusively in them); other than those little moments, she seems to have both feet on the ground. She recognizes that everyone at college was the star of their theater program; she can find the similarities between baseball and theater without the jock having to clue her in on them, even if she doesn’t know all the terminology. In the morning as she’s getting dressed for class, Jake pretends to be asleep but is actually watching her get ready. It’s the corollary to that gorgeous line Celine has in Before Sunrise when she says, “I like to feel his eyes on me when I look away.” Deutch has a small role, but she is so right that one can’t help but wish there could be a movie about Beverly instead. Everybody Wants Some!! hones in on that one time, that one weekend before the start of class. Is it too much to hope for that the guy behind three Before movies and Boyhood might indulge us again and let us see Beverly again? One hopes so; our last sight of her is her embarrassed, pleased long-distance wave; Jake, on his way to class, can’t keep his eyes off her. The reaction from his teammates is predictable and almost fuzzy in its dim-witted execution. I couldn’t help laughing:

One thought on “Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

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