Older readers will remember that Seinfeld was the 1990s’ self-described “show about nothing.” The title was a comedic misnomer: every episode was about something: the foibles of four selfish people in New York. The description would be more apt for Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, as this quite literally is “a movie about nothing.” In fairness, it’s about something, as there’s an underlying plot and progression of events to the movie, but there’s ultimately no lasting drama or conflict which ties the film together. Instead the film meanders through a three-day weekend of events. Depending on your opinion of Richard Linklater films, you will interpret this lack of plot as either a feature or a bug.
Set in 1980–as the film’s soundtrack and fashion constantly reminds us–the story follows college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) as he moves into an off-campus home for baseball players at his university. Introduced to the spartan, impromptu lives of his housemates, Jake acclimates to college living and the varied-yet-identical jocks with whom he shares a home. With classes starting in only three days, Jake takes a whirlwind tour through cruising in cars, picking up women, hosting keggers, going to three different nightclubs, smoking marijuana, practicing baseball, and developing his first romance with a girl whose eye he catches early on (Zoey Deutch).
And that’s the plot in a nutshell. There’s no conflict or goal which drives Jake’s first three days at college; it’s simply an encapsulation of the best parts of college life, the freedom of young adulthood in an environment with very little of the responsibility. This story style is manifestly the inverse of Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, which follows a similar pattern only involving the last days of high school rather than the first days of college. Certainly, Jake runs into minor struggles: stupid college bets, breaking up a fight, dealing with roommates who steal his stuff or won’t share the room when he has a girl. None of these come to a head anywhere, but typify what most people who go away to school experience at some point over four years.
Going in, the viewer needs to decide if a “day in the life,” non-event film is for them. Linklater fans vigorously defend his style of film and Dazed and Confused in particular, so there’s clearly an audience for this type of movie. It may not be for those expecting a distinct conflict/resolution type of story, because that’s simply not present. If filmgoers want a nostalgia piece about the college experience, this may be more for them.
Really, that’s the draw of Everybody Wants Some!!: nostalgia. For one, this is the most 1980s film you’ll see all year. The characters wear t-shirts whose sleeves are inversely proportional to the size of their moustaches and proudly carry their record collections in milk cartons. Hair is big, music is just entering this side of tolerable, and the biggest political reference you see is whether Jake should vote Carter or Reagan in ’80. The only oddity is why Linklater chose to make an 80s film–the decade wasn’t so crazy that its culture demanded another period piece after The Wedding Singer. And really, the people who were Jake’s age in 1980 are now approaching sixty.
As a college film, though, the nostalgia is more universal. Enough people go to college–specifically, away to college–these days that mass audiences will “get” the unbridled freedom and humorous assholery of the characters. They drink, socialize, and wax philosophical in the same way that all invincible new adults do. To people over 18 who’ve been to college, this film will make a lot of sense even if the plot bores them. And really, there are a lot of funny beats, with the jocks playing various pranks on each other over the long weekend and acting stupid in general. The parts are played well by Jenner and the rest of the cast, even if they’re all just a bit interchangeable (there’s literally not much distinguishing about J. Quinton Johnson’s character except that he’s the black guy).
Lacking a cohesive story, Everybody Wants Some!! is by no means the film of the year, and only time will tell if it will exceed Dazed and Confused as a critical “American Experience” movie. It may be worth it if you’re feeling nostalgic about those fleeting younger days when you were an adult who had every excuse not to act like one.
Rating: Three keggers out of five.