Everybody Wants Some!! is every bit as energetic as its double-exclamation-pointed title suggests. This is classic Linklater and one of the most life-embracing films of recent years. I do not know how Linklater pulls movies like this off, movies with no central plot or story, but he’s found a way since he burst onto the scene with Slacker in 1991.
Everybody Wants Some!! follows a baseball team over the course of three days leading up to their first day of school at UT Austin. It's the kind of story any creative writing teacher would have warned against. The idealistic student would approach the teacher saying, “I want to make a movie about a baseball team in the first days of college.”
“Okay,” says the teacher. “So what is the conflict?”
“Well… there’s not any one defined conflict,” says the student. “It’s more like, the small conflicts between people that arise spontaneously.”
“The story needs a central conflict,” says the teacher. “Otherwise, the audience will not care!”
“I’m not so sure,” says the stubborn student. “Life isn’t always like that, is it? It’s not always about one singular desire and one central conflict. It’s about spontaneity. It’s about moments. And I want to show those moments at UT Austin in 1980, centered around one new pitcher on the college ball team.”
“Son, you can make the movie you want. But I’m telling you now that without a story, no one is going to see it.”
Thank the powers that be that Richard Linklater did not listen to these voices.
Everybody Wants Some!! does not have a plot. Yeah, there’s a romance that buds between protagonist Jake (Blake Jenner) and Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a theater girl who shut down his friends' advances. But the film does not center around this romance. Yeah, there’s an Alpha-male rivalry between Jake and McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the hot-shot All-American, but it arises only when it would in reality. This film has dozens of moments and interactions and characters and relationships that could form their own films, but it respects its characters and audience enough just to offer up a taste. When conflict arises, it does not descend into melodrama. Instead, it honors the conflict, reveals its effects, and bears witness to the multitudes of other emotions that arise over the course of three days in these characters’ lives.
Fans of Linklater can easily sense common themes. He’s interested in how time affects our identity, most notably in Boyhood and the three Before films. He’s interested in dreams and altered ways of perceiving, as in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. He’s interested in music, as in School of Rock and Bernie nostalgia's relationship to memory, as in Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! Above all, he’s interested in life unfolding and its inherent mysteries and delights, and he seeks to honor that mystery with each of his films by revealing and honoring what feel like untainted moments of that unfolding. And those moments always come from the characters, their desires, and the culture they are inextricably a part of.
In Everybody Wants Some!!, the culture is 1980s America. The guys in focus wear tight jeans, short shorts, and colorful, patterned button-downs. Many have mustaches they take very seriously. Discos draw crowds like contemporary clubs, and honky-tonks are surging in popularity. There are no cell phones or computers around, so when the guys are lounging around the baseball house, they spend their time drinking, smoking, and creating competitions ranging from ping-pong tournaments, plastic-hoop basketball, and bloody knuckles. How they approach these mundane competitions tells us so much about their personality--who hasn't met the guy who freaks out after losing a round of poker? Some of the players can't let go of dreams of making it to the Pros, and we see the neurosis that results. (But remember, the neurosis is not the central focus. It is just part of what is there.) Others are realistic about their futures and focus instead on enjoying the fullness of their college baseball experience, herding off the “real world” while they can and embracing the delights of college freedom. They crack open beers any time of day. They sit around a bong listening to Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” and breaking down David Gilmour’s beautiful progression and what it means for the soul. They throw themselves into the experience of being a college ball player, and Linklater allows us to join the party.
Film after film, I am amazed at the authenticity Linklater brings out of his actors. Rarely, if ever, do I feel like I am watching people acting (well, maybe in School of Rock, but he didn’t write the script, and he was working with kids who had never acted). Instead, I feel like I am watching real people experiencing real moments in the real past. I think often to the scene toward the end of Dazed and Confused, when Pink, Slater and the crew are lying on the football field after their party, experiencing their last night of high school. Sometimes they speak, sometimes they experience silence. It’s exactly how these kids would be experiencing this moment, all filtered through the blissful nostalgia Linklater honors. In Everybody Wants Some!!, I get this same sense. The characters stand together at bars and discuss their plans to approach women. Their dialogue is not overly cute or wrought with excessively-intellectual flourish. It’s how people talk. And each character speaks in a unique voice.
I'd like to conclude by calling to mind one of my favorite scenes from Linklater's Waking Life. About halfway through, the unnamed protagonist watches a conversation unfolding on a screen between filmmaker Caveh Zahedi and poet David Jewell. Seated outside a cafe, Caveh argues that much of contemporary, story-based cinema is delivering a lie. Appealing to French film critic Andre Bazin, he argues that a fixed story structure with an actor delivering scripted lines yields a product that denies audience imagination and strips away much of the potential artistry of the medium. He goes on to suggest film is actually about moments, rather than scripts. Great films allow moments to unfold as moments, then capturing that authenticity on camera. For that, according to Bazin, is capturing God, for God manifests as this, as a “Holy Moment.” Caveh looks to David and says, “Let’s do it right now. Let’s have a holy moment.” The two cease speaking. They look heavily into one another’s eyes. Gradually, the world around them whisks away. The depths of the Holy Moment, the depths of God, are becoming manifest through their concentration, through their unscriptedness, through their authenticity, until both characters become clouds surrounded in a vast and open sky. They have transcended time and space in their entry into what unfathomable core lies at the center of what we typically perceive as mundane and banal.
I see this scene as a metaphor for Linklater’s best films. He’s interested in capturing Holy Moments, and he wants us to realize that Holy Moments do not have to take place in chapels or National Parks or airplanes or bedrooms. Holy Moments are parties. Holy Moments are baseball practices. Holy Moments are fights. Holy Moments are lying in grass fields at the end of a wild night. All our lives are Holy Moments, and the more we embrace them and honor them for what they are, the more fulfilling our lives become.
Many thanks, Richard Linklater, for continually reminding us of the sacredness of this impermanent life.