Who wants to watch a bro movie in 2016? This is the age of the VIDA count, the battle for representation in media, the foregrounding of previously marginalized voices. Culturally, we’re in the era of the waning of the bro, a development that all who are not bros (and even some of us who are) can appreciate. Bros, we got a couple millennia of stories about our lives—great run, bro! Time for some other stories, right?
So the release of Richard Linklater’s shaggy, inquisitive Everybody Wants Some!!—the second exclamation point, from the Van Halen original, is crucial, and connotes not decibel level but good cheer—is a testament either to Linklater’s foolhardiness or his limited aesthetic worldview. His 17-film career has focused on men and their discontents; I count only two believable, complex female characters in his entire filmography, both of whose creations can be credited as much to the actresses who played them (Julie Delpy and Patricia Arquette) as to Linklater himself.
Even though he made an entire Best Picture–nominated masterpiece about the shape and quality of masculinity in America, this doesn’t actually seem like the topic that most interests Linklater. Instead it seems like his habitat: the world he lives in, the one he understands unthinkingly, the environment that allows him the easiest access to the ideas he wants his films to address. Such is the case with Everybody Wants Some!!, which on its face is the bro-iest brotion picture Linklater has ever made, a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused with a narrower view of masculinity and even fewer memorable women.
Its characters are tube-sock-wearing jocks, cocksure and handsome, a college baseball team all living together in two ramshackle frat-like houses just off their South Texas university’s campus. The movie’s hero is Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher whose feathered hair is only matched in beauty by his smooth delivery to the plate. Jake and his buds feast at the buffet of young women that college offers them. They are all blithely satisfied with their lot; except for one second baseman, they are all white. They live to explain things to anyone who’s listening: rules of pool, the efficacy of pickup lines, the techniques of hazing, all the bro codes that define their day-to-day. Even the smart ones do stupid things all the time. They are the dictionary definition of young, dumb, and full of—
About that. The young men of Everybody Wants Some!! are desperate to get laid, no denying. Everybody in this movie wants some!!, and that urge, overtly expressed again and again by grinning jocks with flowing locks, can feel a bit oppressive. But what won me over was how Linklater—though staying true to the sometimes-blinkered viewpoint of his 20-year-olds—allows the non-horny aspects of their personality to creep into the edges of the frame. At movie’s start, we’re presented with a bunch of dudes who only care about baseball and sex. By film’s end, we’ve learned that they wonder about music, about love, about philosophy and drugs and the future and the joys of fresh experiences and the tricky dance of declaring allegiance to a lifestyle. And baseball and sex. (They fall asleep during history, though, which is fine.)
That’s because, though we do watch many of these baseball players round the bases with the co-eds of their choice, what we mostly see them do is—in Linklater style—shoot the shit. As freshmen like Jake begin to acclimate to college life in their first weekend before classes, they are led by the team’s upperclassmen, who may greet them warmly or coldly but who take seriously the responsibility of passing on the wisdom of the ages to their young charges. All left-handed pitchers are weird. Do not shoot pool with the “bitch stick.” Stick by your teammates, even the screw-ups. “We all take turns being chumps around here,” the team’s resident motormouth philosopher Finn (an engaging, big-brotherly Glen Powell) tells the frosh when they bristle at being hazed, as good a life lesson as anyone ever was taught.
To Linklater’s trademark repartee, though—which sparkles enough to serve, in some of the scenes set on the playing field, as a sop to the presumably small class of people who fervently wish someone would make a movie out of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding already—the director adds an appreciation of physical grace and wonder that I haven’t often seen in his films before. These guys may be buffoons, shit-stirrers, pussyhounds, but they’re also athletes. It’s not just that Everybody Wants Some!! is the rare baseball movie where everyone can actually play baseball, though that’s a great relief. It’s that these are young men whose bodies yearn for activity at all hours, whether they are dancing, fighting, preening, or—in the movie’s best scene—slicing baseballs in half mid-air with a hatchet. Cinematographer Shane F. Kelly’s frame can barely contain these young stars in their exuberance. They live in their bodies as much as they live in their minds, and Linklater, a cerebral director but also a former college baseball player, loves these bros enough to recognize that they care equally about both.
And we love them, too. If the movie at first seems to pale in comparison to Dazed and Confused in the homogeneity of its heroes compared to that film’s menagerie of stoners, freaks, meatheads, cheerleaders, and Woodersons, it feels, in the end, like an even more remarkable achievement, in part because Linklater takes care to tease such different strands of humanity out of a bunch of dudes I couldn’t even tell apart for the first half-hour of the movie—a bunch of dudes, indeed, I was ready to hate. (In the age of the End of Men, that feels like a pretty remarkable accomplishment.)
The guys are oblivious to our suspicion, of course. I mean, it’s 1980, the dawn of the era of peak bro, but regardless they’re so pleased with their sun-kissed life that they can’t imagine why anyone would ever dislike them. (Even when shot down by women, they doggedly, cheerfully, give it yet another ol’ college try.) But that doesn’t mean they’re satisfied: Part of the fun of the film is watching these guileless and curious guys try on different identities even as we’re still learning who they are. They’ll dance disco, they’ll check out a punk club and a theater party, they’ll ride a mechanical bull if that’s what it takes to meet some girls. Through these varying milieus we see the seeds of the men these boys will grow up to be: their bravery, their bluffness, their kindness and cruelty, their insecurities and tempers.
I worried I’d be disappointed by Everybody Wants Some!!, even though one of my favorite directors made it. But I loved it. It’s a warm and satisfying movie, one that reveals inside its seemingly superficial heroes sparks of individuality that are all the more satisfying for how gracefully they’re uncovered. Like Clueless or Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s a great American comedy, and like Boyhood and Dazed and Confused, another easygoing masterpiece from our reigning auteur of hidden depths.