Over the next two weeks, The Atlantic will delve into some of the most interesting films of the year by examining a single, noteworthy moment and unpacking what it says about 2016. Today is Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! (The whole “And, Scene” series will appear here.)
When it was released in March, Everybody Wants Some!! may have seemed desperately out of step with the moment. Set in 1980, at the dawn of the Reagan era, Richard Linklater’s film (billed as a “spiritual sequel” to his Dazed and Confused) follows the exploits of a college baseball team over a weekend as they go to parties, hit on women, trade philosophical observations through a haze of bong smoke, and generally try to have a no-strings-attached good time. They succeed on all counts. Linklater’s bet—that viewers would care about the frivolous antics of these overflowing fountains of testosterone—was a pretty risky one.
But there’s something special about Everybody Wants Some!! (so-named after the Van Halen song that is the centerpiece the film’s spectacular soundtrack): a strangely egalitarian sense to the gang’s low-stakes capers. They mingle with every social clique—jocks, fraternity brothers, punks, theater kids—but do so on the group’s terms. If the main characters get rejected by a woman, they take it in a stride; their baser energies are directed toward competitive sports and healthily mocking each other. No scene more sums up the film’s simple joys than the scene when, during a beer run, The Sugarhill Gang’s pioneering 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight” comes on the radio, and everyone starts to rap along.
The new pitcher Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), the star of the film, is sitting in the backseat with Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) and Tyrone (Temple Baker). Kenny (Ryan Guzman) is driving while the energetic Finn (Glen Powell), who’s clearly been at school for more than a few years now, launches into the song’s first verse. “See, I am Wonder Finn, and I’d like to say hello,” he haltingly raps, subbing in his own name for Wonder Mike’s. “To the black to the white, the red and the brown / The purple and yellow.”
Dale is the only African American in the car, but there isn’t a hint of awkwardness for any of the characters. For the 2016 audience, Finn’s rapping might feel more strange if he weren’t so carefree. Quickly, everyone in the car joins in, and the scene goes on for a hilariously long time, with everyone taking one of the many solos in “Rapper’s Delight.” It’s the kind of scene that starts out fun, starts to feel weird the longer it lasts, and then loops back around to being fun again. The moment underlines the appeal of Everybody Wants Some!!’s ensemble—their lack of self-awareness only adds to their charm.
The film is an autobiographical work for Linklater, who attended a Texas college on a baseball scholarship. He’s said the film’s depiction of race relations was intended to echo his own experience of an America that he perceived, from an admittedly limited perspective, as far less divided. As such, Everybody Wants Some!! is a portrait of an innocent time that may never have quite existed, though the fantasy offers a powerful point of contrast.
“It was the end of the ’70s. Anything that smacked of racism felt so dumb, from a different era. It’s pre-Reagan, pre-‘welfare queen.’ Reagan turned the clock back on racism,” Linklater said in an interview with Buzzfeed. “You know, when Reagan announces his presidential candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi—as we know, the home of the [Freedom Summer] murders—talking about states’ rights, he’s declaring: We’re going backwards. And they did! Between that and the Moral Majority, there we are today.”
To Linklater, America is getting more divided, and his films have become increasingly nostalgic as a result. The Reagan-era politics he decried have snowballed into daily insults from the country’s president-elect and a newly amplified discussion about racism. It’s no accident that 2016 feels far more fraught than Linklater’s backward-looking stories, though perhaps the dissonance can be instructive for viewers today. But even if you consider it as a bit of pure period escapism, Everybody Wants Some!! works beautifully.
Previously: Mountains May Depart
Next Up: The Lobster