Richard Linklater runs a tight race with Steven Soderbergh for the title of most-chameleon-like filmmaker. His 25-year career has produced neo-hipster musings (Slacker), micro-dramas (Tape), period films (The Newton Boys; Me and Orson Welles), animation (Waking Life), science fiction (A Scanner Darkly), studio-produced hits (School of Rock), neo-arthouse romances (the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy) and the post-neorealism brilliance of Boyhood. Linklater's films seem to emanate from his headquarters in Austin, Texas, with only a passing interest in the commercial trends of the day. His films can be deeply felt statements, or simply ideas that happened to catch his attention for a few weeks.
So Linklater stays true to form by following the award-winning Boyhood with the considerably lower-brow Everybody Wants Some!!, a nostalgic comedy that has been described as a "spiritual sequel" to Linklater's 1993 film Dazed and Confused (a film whose spiritual qualities, I must admit, were lost on me when it was first released). Dazed and Confused, which shares a title with a Led Zeppelin song, took place on a single day in 1976, the last day of high school for a miscellaneous bunch of jocks and stoners. The new film, which shares its title with a Van Halen song (right down to the double exclamation points), takes place over a few days in the fall of 1980, the last weekend before the first classes of the year for a miscellaneous bunch of stoner jocks. I'll bet you can already see the difference.
Everybody Wants Some!! begins with Jake (Blake Jenner) arriving on campus, settling into his new accommodations — a house reserved solely for the college baseball team — and meeting his teammates. No sooner have introductions been made when Jake and team begin an almost uninterrupted spate of drinking, pointless macho competitions (I had completely forgotten that stupid game in which players whack each other on the knuckles until one of them gives up) and parties, each with its own musical style and wardrobe requirements. Those seeking a dose of '80s nostalgia will be pleased to note that Linklater's characters are culturally diverse party animals, rapping along with the Sugar Hill Gang, stopping by a disco, a country-western dance club, a punk concert and an Alice in Wonderland-themed party.
Music is the glue which holds the rambling party scenes together — 1980 was the beginning of the end for an era when having a bulky but well-rounded record collection was as culturally important a signifier as a well-curated Facebook page is today. But there's also, as you might expect from a Linklater film, a great deal of wild and woolly conversation about nothing in particular. The difference between the monologues of these affable jocks and the earnest ramblings in Slacker or Waking Life is that this time you know the guys doing the talking are wasted.
There is, in fact, another '80s influence just as indispensable to the film as "Whip It" and "My Sharona." The early 1980s — the dawn of home video and late-night cable — saw the release of dozens of R-rated teen sex comedies such as Spring Break, Hard Bodies, Private School and Screwballs. Everybody Wants Some!! is like an anthology of the party scenes from those films without having to waste time on the dull spots and dopey plots in between. As I watched the film, I briefly suspected that Linklater had secretly made this as a clandestine art project along the lines of Gus Van Sant's re-working of Psycho, carefully making sure not to miss a single teen sex comedy trope: Arrogant character gets his comeuppance? Hero meets really nice girl? Mud wrestling? Twister? Everybody gets some!!
Everybody Wants Some!! is consistently likable, but — and I have no doubt this is intentional — it's almost blissfully unreflective of anything close to reality. 1980 was a hazy, transitional year, the waning of the overlong 1970s, but if anything is going on in the world — the Iranian hostage crisis, the boycotted Moscow Olympics, the presidential election (briefly alluded to by background props) — Linklater's student body doesn't seem to be paying attention. The soundtrack and facial hair may place the film in 1980, but it's a very narrow image of that time, as if the only historical documents left behind from that year were a Billboard albums chart and a VHS tape of Hardbodies.