A car packed with college baseball players rolls through a Texas town, its passengers shamelessly trolling for dates. “My Sharona” by The Knack plays in the background as these handsome jocks trade dirty verbal barbs, try out pickup lines, and make mischief in their dilapidated frat house. As such, Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! should be a headache, an unnecessary rehash of the ribald college comedy. It’s just the opposite: a delightfully shaggy odyssey through the half-baked thoughts and desires of an amiable gaggle of bros. It wins you over without ever seeming to try, like a goofy joke you can’t help but smile at, and the result is a comedy that deserves its place in Linklater’s pantheon alongside his 1993 cult masterpiece Dazed and Confused.
For a film that isn’t about much in particular, Everybody Wants Some!! is surprisingly plotty, getting its hefty ensemble into plenty of minor scrapes over a weekend as they prepare for another year of college. The 1980-set film, loosely inspired by Linklater’s own brief career as a college baseball player, follows Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher settling in with his new team and navigating the hazing rituals, preening rivals, and general pile-up of burgeoning masculinity therein. But Linklater doesn’t seek to explode anything into teen melodrama, or deliver some satisfying arc of personal growth and development. His heroes spend the film bantering about matters big and small, dancing to an eclectic soundtrack, and generally having a good time. Audiences are almost guaranteed to do the same.
Though it’s being billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, Linklater’s 1976-set high-school comedy that was also inspired by his adolescence, Everybody Wants Some!! has just as much in common with his less-heralded 2001 work Waking Life. No, it’s not a psychedelic animated film set in the world of dreams, but it does draw upon Linklater’s expert skill with conversation, making the aimless chatter of Jake and his teammates feel like next-level philosophizing. The film revels in the universal experience of that period between adolescence and adulthood, and the moments of insight that could come from articulating ideas great and small. More than the skirt-chasing or the baseball, it’s the talking that’s the thrill of Everybody Wants Some!!
This is an undeniably male film—there’s only one major female character, Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a winsome drama student who forms a connection with Jake. But Linklater’s mellow take on dudehood feels like a necessary counter to the puffed-up, toxic masculinity of the present, where cloistered groups of men on the Internet shriek and moan at the idea of their primacy being threatened. The jocks of Everybody Wants Some!! are often stupid, and then just as quickly intelligent or sensitive; even the most dunderheaded among them aren’t one-dimensional stereotypes, and prove themselves capable of moments of (perhaps accidental) genius.
There’s Finnegan (Glen Powell), a verbose charmer on the edge of aging out of college ball, holding onto his last moments as king of the campus. Glen (Tyler Hoechlin) is a genuine prospect who values his status as the team’s athletic star, becoming hyper-competitive about everything from ping-pong games to the proper application of cologne. Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) gets his teammates stoned and waxes lyrical about the chord progressions of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Jay (Juston Street) is an hilariously aggressive transfer student who in any other film would precipitate a dramatic confrontation. Here, when he butts heads with Glen, he eventually realizes his mistake and apologizes; Glen gives him a pat and assures him they’re cool.
Above all, Linklater wants his audience to have a good time without ever showing them a moment that feels canned. When Glen and friends drive around campus reciting the lyrics to the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the director holds for a minute too long, letting the performance go from sweet, to awkward, and then back around. The film’s varied soundtrack reflects the curious cultural moment at the start of the ’80s, and the crash of genres and tastes is reflected in the film’s many dance sequences at local clubs. The guys throw down at a disco, a country jamboree, a punk show, and a musical, equally excited by everything. Linklater has remarked on the relative innocence of America post-Great Society and pre-Reagan, and the ease with which the group’s lone black member Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) interacts with the rest of the largely white cast feels indicative of that.
But Everybody Wants Some!! is nostalgic for more than its specific era: It’s evocative of a moment in growing up, the freedom of leaving home coupled with the low stakes of college life. It’s frequently hilarious and unusually gripping for a film that strives to avoid manufactured drama, and it leaves the viewer with a deep understanding of each character in its teeming ensemble. In short, it’s an effortless cult classic, delivered by a master of the form, and one of the first truly must-see movies of 2016.