‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ Film Review: A Cut-Above Campus Comedy

On its chrome-plated exterior, “Everybody Wants Some!!” is a freewheeling and very funny campus comedy that takes place at a Texas college three days before classes start. Look closer, and there is one intricate engine under its hood.

This kaleidoscope from Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “Before Sunrise”) is set at a time when polyester was cool, jeans were high-waisted and guys who were not porn stars boasted brushy, brushy mustaches. That time is August 1980, a cusp moment in America. Volunteers for GOP presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter are working the quad, jockeying for the attention of undefined undergraduates who slowly emerge as individual personalities. There is Finn (Glen Powell), the philosopher; Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the Zen stoner; and Jake (Blake Jenner), the quiet freshman taking it all in.

They don’t know it, but they are living in the moment just after Carter’s speech about America’s “crisis of conscience,” before AIDS, and a few more beats before Reagan’s “morning in America.” These guys, members of the championship baseball team, don’t know whether it’s cooler to ape John Travolta’s disco moves from “Saturday Night Fever” or his Texas two-step from “Urban Cowboy.” The young dudes are not unaware of hip-hop and new wave: They sing “Rapper’s Delight” while cruising for girls and go to a punk concert in order to trawl for babes. For them, life is a cabaret, and if they don’t like this act, there’s always another.

A running sight gag is how the guys dress differently for the various clubs in order to fit in. They haven’t yet discovered how to stand out.

Because the guys are players, in every sense of the word, there are pointed moments of winning-is-everything behavior and a rudely funny sequence of hazing. Because they are angling for one-night stands, their awkward pickup lines provide much of the randy humor. Linklater would seem to be conducting an anthropological survey of jockus americanus. But, as in his best films, he is after something more subtle. Namely, what is it that sparks human connection? (Spoiler alert: It’s neither smart-assery nor sex.)

It emerges that the film’s first two acts provide the kaleidoscopic context and its last a microscopic examination of a budding relationship. One of the apparently self-assured ballplayers (you can probably guess which) cannot forget Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a pert redhead and drama major he saw the first day he arrived. Turns out he’s not at all as self-assured as he pretends, nor she so flip. He knows nothing about her world, nor she about his. But they soon find common ground when she notes that each has practiced a lot to get into the drama and athletic programs. When he says that baseball season isn’t until spring, she asks, “So, in rehearsals ’til then?”

What neither freshman has grasped fully is the many ways that college is a rehearsal for adult performance. But their first hangout goes well enough for her to invite him to the drama department’s party to usher in the new school year. Linklater’s film segues lightly from Jockworld, where boys talk bats and brawn, to Performing Arts world, where girls are neither trophies nor pieces of ass, but mistresses of their own domain.

Linklater’s singularity as a director lies in his sympathy for his characters: He likes them all, no matter how flawed. And like his most memorable characters, he is a keen observer of human behavior. While next to “Before Midnight” and “Boyhood,” “Everybody Wants Some!!” may seem like the shallow end of the pool, not every movie needs to be a deep dive. And too few explore the personal transformations that come in the wake of transitional moments. I’m hoping that in five years, Linklater makes “Everybody Wants Some More.”

Postscript: Wyatt Russell and Zoey Deutch looked familiar to me, but I just couldn’t place them. Turns out that Russell is the very funny, very brawny son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell and that Deutch is the rosebud-mouthed daughter of actress Lea Thomson and director Howard Deutch.

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