Friday, April 15, 2016

Everybody Wants Some: College daze

Everybody Wants Some (2016) • View trailer 
3.5 stars. Rated R, for relentless profanity, drug use, sexual candor and brief nudity

By Derrick Bang

Boys will be boys ... and it’s a wonder girls will have anything to do with them.

Texas-born writer/director Richard Linklater hearkens back to his cinematic roots with this new laid-back comedy, which he regards as a “spiritual sequel” to his career-making 1993 hit, Dazed and Confused. That film, set in May 1976, followed the antics of small-town high school kids during their final day of class; this one spends three days in September 1980, during the long weekend preceding the first day of college.

Having commandeered a table at the local disco, Jake (Blake Jenner, center) and his new
friends — from left, Finn (Glen Powell), Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), Dale (J. Quinton
Johnson) and Plummer (Temple Baker) — assess the field to determine which young
ladies are worth pursuing.
The goals — getting drunk, stoned and indulging in recreational sex — haven’t changed, nor has the execution: Although Linklater typically begins with carefully dialogued scripts, he encourages his cast members to expand and improvise, as they become more “in tune” with their characters. The result feels spontaneous and organic, like a well-rehearsed play that has grown from humbler origins.

That said, such riffing isn’t always successful. Many of the guys here feel goofily authentic, their conversation and antics what we’d expect from early ’80s college jocks. A few, however, are way over the top, the young actors in question trying much too hard. By the same token, some of the unstructured interactions sorta drift off into space, never really justifying their existence.

At just a few minutes shy of two full hours, Everybody Wants Some also starts to feel a bit tedious, its episodic nature gradually wearing out its welcome. Better that Linklater and editor Sandra Adair had trimmed more judiciously, and left us wanting more.

Even so, it’s hard to resist the film’s larkish charm, and that of its young cast. At its best moments — which is most of the time — Linklater’s unabashedly autobiographical ode to his own college experience is both fun and funny.

The setting is Southeast Texas State University, where incoming freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) has left his small-town roots to become one of the newest members of STU’s baseball team. That allows him the best of all possible perks: a room in one of the school’s two frat-like “baseball houses,” far removed from the cramped, apartment-like dorms in which most new students are shoveled.

Jake quickly finds himself one of the low men in a pecking order dominated by seniors McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) and Roper (Ryan Guzman), who view it as their responsibility to squash the prima donna instincts of newbies who may have been star athletes in high school, but now are no more than scramblers amid peers who all were stars at their respective schools.

Jake is joined by fellow novices Tyrone Plummer (Temple Baker), something of a dim bulb; Brumley (Tanner Kalina), a naïve and highly suggestible easy mark for the constant pranking; and dip-chewing, good ol’ boy Billy Autry (Will Brittain), immediately tagged with the bumpkinish moniker of “Beuter Perkins,” a nickname he spends the entire film trying (and failing) to abolish.

The newcomers also include the slightly older Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a pot-smoking California kid At One With The Mystical Universe; and Jay (Juston Street), a “ringer” recruited for his pitching skills, whose unstable, hair-trigger temper flares every time anybody dares suggest that he isn’t the second coming of Nolan Ryan.

These guys are greeted with varying levels of camaraderie and good-natured scorn by older housemates such as Nesbit (Austin Amelio), a hilariously inept gambler; Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), a smooth-as-silk lady’s man; and charismatic, fast-talking Finn (Glen Powell), who often steps in to compensate for the harsh treatment handed down by McReynolds and Roper.

Finn is the group’s unofficial Yoda: the self-professed “wise sage” who senses when a given newbie has had enough, and needs a bit of encouragement. At the same time, most of what emerges from Finn’s mouth is high-falutin’ baloney, which he’ll cheerfully acknowledge ... but only after his silver-tongued patter has seduced yet another young lady.

Daytime antics include competitive activities — Ping Pong, card “games” with fabricated “rules” designed to trap unwary freshmen, and a painful two-man challenge dubbed knuckle-flicking — while evenings are reserved for parties and bar-hopping. The local scene covers all musical bases, where (if necessary) the guys are willing to tolerate music they loathe, just as long as women will be present.

Thus, these hormonally hilariously journeys of the night take us through disco, honky-tonk and even the small mosh pit of something new: a flyspeck punk club. Along the way, Linklater indulges his seminal memories of The Knack, Cheap Trick, Pat Benatar, Van Halen, Dire Straits and many, many more. The best musical moment, by far: Jake, Finn and three others, jammed into a car, and singing in perfect synchronization to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” It is to die for.

“I have a personal connection to every song in the movie,” Linklater explains, in the press notes. “It was an interesting moment, musically, with so many artists at the top of their game, and so many genres equally sharing the stage.”

The hijinks serve the obvious crucial purpose of bonding: allowing the new guys to determine how they fit in — if at all — while being examined and (hopefully) accepted by their “elders.” As Linklater did with Dazed and Confused — whose fresh faces included youngsters such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich — the cast here is dominated by relative unknowns and even first-time actors.

Baker is a hoot as the clueless Tyrone, forever two beats behind what everybody else says and does; Johnson has the suave grace of a born hustler. Both are making respectable big-screen debuts.

Powell has the capable charm of a busy veteran, with credits stretching back a decade-plus; he’s recognized these days from TV’s Scream Queens, and he displays excellent comic timing with Finn’s motor-mouthed pearls of wisdom. Russell is the pluperfect Santa Cruz-style stoner: his eyes never quite focused, his gaze often tracking slightly left of center, as if his world constantly spins (which it likely does).

The heavy emotional lifting falls to Jenner, well remembered from his two seasons on TV’s Glee. Jake is good-looking and pleasantly hunky; he’s also utterly sincere (often to his detriment). He’s our focal point in this saga: the guy through whose eyes all action takes place. Jenner makes him a thoroughly likable protagonist, persuasively trying to conceal Jake’s fish-out-of-water uncertainty with an amiable, obliging willingness to endure his share of gentle hazing, in order to get along.

Matters get more serious when he actively pursues a young lady initially spotted as she moves into the dorms. This “girl in room 307” turns out to be Beverly, a freshman theater major played to adorable perfection by Zoey Deutch. Beverly oozes the bubbly enthusiasm of perky, wide-eyed stage brats for whom getting in touch with their creative spirits is akin to breathing: an absolute 24/7 necessity.

At the same time, Deutch is one of the few cast members who genuinely looks like a college student (many of the guys likely being at least several years beyond their late teen/early twentysomething sell date). Her chemistry with Jenner is palpable, and their tentative courtship is quite sweet, as is their “mutual discovery” dialog: She’s surprised that he’s not as dumb as most jocks, while he’s pleased to see that she’s not as self-absorbed as most performing arts geeks.

The overall dynamic is what we expect (and remember?) of those learning to navigate the choppy waters of unsupervised adulthood, while trying to balance freedom with at least a modicum of responsibility ... like attending class, once the session begins. The banter is earthy and profane, with frequent F-bombs; alcohol and bongs are as loose as the micro-tops that many of the girls are all too willing to shed.

But even if the sybaritic excess seems a bit much for three short days, our takeaway — which feels absolutely authentic — is the overall familiarity of being newly arrived at college, and the often painful effort required to find one’s place in the crowd: to carve out something that can be uniquely defining. In that respect, Everybody Wants Some is awash with pleasant nostalgia, and only hard-hearted viewers will be able to resist that aspect of Linklater’s comic valentine to young adult awkwardness.

Whether it achieves the generational resonance of genre classics — such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and, yes, Dazed and Confused — remains to be seen; I’m not sure the early ’80s will resonate with today’s millennial viewers.

On the other hand, they may delight in this opportunity to discover just how dorky their parents were.

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