Thursday, April 21, 2016

BOYS CLUB: a review of "Everybody Wants Some!!"

Written and Directed by Richard Linklater
**** (four stars)

I am unable to fully express to you the undeniable magic that existed during the 1979/1980 school year when I was in the 5th grade in an upstairs clubhouse of a classroom with some of my most cherished childhood friends and one of the finest teachers I have ever been graced to have had in my life, Mr. John Wilson. Furthermore, I am unable to fully express to you the undeniable magic that existed when I arrived at college in 1987 and the four years that ensued. For both of those specific periods, with all of their respective beginnings and endings and experiences both good and bad, these years were deeply instrumental in my growth and development into the person I exist as today in 2016. I would not trade those years for anything and if I had the possession of a time machine, I think I would seriously ponder travelling backwards just to revisit days, night and even mere moments just to experience them again (albeit from a different perspective).

In some ways, I am almost beginning to wonder if Writer/Director Richard Linklater is not solely a filmmaker but inexplicably some sort of time traveler. Now certainly not in the sense of a fictional character like Dr. Who or a figure out of an H.G. Wells tale. But, Linklater, throughout his career, has carried this uncanny ability to chart specific time periods and the emotional, psychological and philosophical landscapes specific to each and all periods--and to such a highly entertaining degree--that he is truly an artist of an extremely rare quality.

In recent years, Richard Linklater has truly found himself into an especially fruitful artistic groove. After delivering "Bernie" (2011), the terrific true crime/dark comedy which features the career best performance to date from Jack Black, as well as the outstanding "Before Midnight" (2013), and his masterpiece, the beautiful, brilliant "Boyhood" (2014), Linklater moves backwards and forwards in time once again with his latest entry, "Everybody Wants Some!!," his self described "spiritual sequel" to his classic "Dazed And Confused" (1993). As you would certainly expect, the film is indeed a wild, raucous ride filled wall-to-wall with sex, drugs, and rock and roll yet its deep perceptiveness into the male ego and the poignancy surrounding the beginnings of collegiate life will certainly sneak up on you and warmly surprise as Linklater ensures that the film is not just a wild party but a film that provides the proceedings with a palpable urgency and even fragility to match its rambunctious energy.

Where "Dazed And Confused" focused upon one long day, night and the following early morning beginning with the last day of high school for a collective of students in 1976, "Everybody Wants Some!!" flashes forwards to August 28,1980 as we follow Jake (Blake Jenner), Texas college Freshman and new pitcher to the university's baseball team, as he arrives at his new school and living quarters, a dilapidated house designated for members of the baseball team.

Jake is immediately ingratiated with, and also runs afoul of, several of his new team and housemates including the loquacious would be charmer Finnegan (Glen Powell), the perpetually stoned Carl Sagan/Pink Floyd devotee and would be guru Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), testy and jealous would be B.M.O.C. McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), would be playboy Roeper (Ryan Guzman) among others during a full weekend of male bonding, competition and rampant debauchery for one last summertime blast before the school year begins.

Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some!!" is a rambling, raunchy, and raw joyride of a film that deserves and fully earns its self-description as being the spiritual sequel to "Dazed And Confused." It's shaggy structure, which follows Jake and his team/housemates for the entire weekend all the way to moments into their first day in the lecture halls, showcases the Linklater aesthetic as this is indeed a film that does not function via a plotline or really even a story. "Everybody Wants Some!!," like most of the films within Linklater's filmography, is a "slice of life" film so authentic to its sense of time, place and most importantly, behavior, that the film could also be seen as somewhat of a quasi-sequel to "Boyhood" and therefore, a quasi-prequel to "Before Sunrise" (1995) as we witness characters of a certain age navigating their post high school lives.

This is where I feel that Richard Linklater functions as somewhat of a time traveler, because he is so truthful to the time period as well as to the specific time of life, that he has blissfully captured late adolescence that is specific to it own time period while also functioning as lyrical odes that are indeed timeless. These characters are stepping into the shoes of all who have come before them and setting the stage for all who will arrive after them, while having experiences and self-discoveries that are as universal as they are individualistic.

In fact, and also like "Boyhood," I believe that you will also find yourselves travelling through your memories and discovering key moments that fully mirror the antics on-screen. An early sequence, which finds Jake and his crew driving around and all enthusiastically rapping along to The Sugarhill Gang's now iconic "Rapper's Delight" instantly brought me back to my 5th grade mornings on the school bus and how the Earth shifted every single time "Rapper's Delight" played over the bus driver's radio. Additionally, I often traveled back to 1987 when I arrived at college and moved into the third floor of the all male dormitory in which I would call "home" for four years. During my Freshman year, I was a daily witness to various mammoth members of the Wisconsin Badgers football team having lunch together in the common room fully engrossed in episodes of "Days Of Our Lives," a memory that was mirrored in the film by the baseball team players ensconced in their viewings of "All My Children." Memories long dormant were triggered over and again as I watched "Everybody Wants Some!!," again making the full experience of viewing a Richard Linklater film as something completely immersive and never at any point mindlessly passive.

With "Everybody Wants Some!!," Linklater again provides us with a cinematic 1980 landscape so meticulously designed and executed that could also exist as a documentary! From the clothes, locations, vehicles, hairstyles (man, were those "porn-staches" that prevalent?)  and of course, the sparkling opening to end credit soundtrack (which fully sat inside of my personal wheelhouse), the film nearly feels as if it was unearthed from some sort of time capsule rather than a film production lensed and brought to vivid life in the 21st century.

Aside from the aesthetics, what is truly notable about the film is that I feel that this just may be Linklater's most testosterone heavy film to date as the cast dominates in male characters and therefore, male behavior in all of its aggressive, comical, vulgar, overbearing penis envy from the seemingly endless carousing for girls, locker room banter that feels to exist anywhere and everywhere from sunrise to alcoholic pass-outs, and the eternal jockeying of athletic and sexual prowess.

The male bravado is indeed overwhelming at times (it's almost like viewing a squadron of the Matthew McConaughey character from "Dazed And Confused"), I have to admit.that I often remarked to myself that what I was witnessing was precisely why I habitually steered away from certain types of aggressive male friendships throughout my life. Yet, Linklater completely ensures that his film never exists as or descends into becoming what could have been a new and wholly unnecessary version of the odious "Porky's" (1982), due to his insight and perceptiveness into this specific brand of male behavior and therefore, male insecurity.

Linklater provides us with a front row seat into what is essentially a Darwinian survival of the fittest regarding all of the male characters within "Everybody Wants Some!!." While the hazing rituals as depicted in "Dazed And Confused" make their return in this new film, and aside from one wild sequence upon the baseball field, the taunts and humiliations exist as more of a psychological and social degree than physical but the fear, scars, bruises and wounds are rampant regardless of  how deeply these young men try to conceal them. With so much male bravado on constant display, any sense of perceived softness or sensitivity is viewed as weakness. One of the more soft spoken characters is teased relentlessly about his lack of a mustache while another gentler character is endlessly razed over his long distance relationship and repeatedly has his given name changed by his teammates regardless of all of his protests no matter how vehemently they are expressed.

Yet, Linklater is quite sly with his affectionate, observational, non-judgmental style, especially when regarding just how fragile these young men truly are as well as the obvious homo-erotic tension/fear that exists as well. Take their nightly carousing of the local dance clubs, for instance. First, we have all of the primping and preening these men undertake upon themselves, one of whom laboriously stares at the reflection of his own posterior in the mirror, ensuring that he has what he refers to as "the best cheese on campus." Then, we have various sequences of the nights themselves as they go from disco clubs then to country and western bars and finally, ending up at a punk rock show, all the while attempting to change and adapt to any new locale or any potential hookups...and never being content to ever just be themselves, whomever each of these characters happen to be underneath the overwhelming machismo. Save for Jake, to an extent.

"Everybody Wants Some!!," for all of its riotous energy, is a film that surprisingly grows quieter and more contemplative over the course of its running time. Jake eventually begins a relationship late in the film with the film's sole primary female character, a theater and performing arts major named Beverly (Zoey Deutch--incidentally the daughter of actress Lea Thompson and Director Howard Deutch). Their first major scenes together, one of which is a telephone call and another set in her dorm room, are both witty and revealing of each character's misconceptions and prejudices about the other as well as their mutual attraction and publicly concealed hopes for their respective futures. But returning to the cast of male characters, we do also have the opportunity to have several touching moments where competition phases into camaraderie and adversaries phase into mutual admiration. Yes, building friendships could all vanish in a flash and return to hefty rivalry--and it does tend to--but the possibles are present and relevant.

Mostly, we see these men though all of their public masks and social facades, which all exist to obscure their individual levels of fear and inadequacy, whether with women or even greater, their respective places on the baseball team and their potential futures as professional athletes. In their individual high schools, they were all the star players but now, in a sea of star players, nobody is a star player and the anxiety that ensues is deeply perceptive. We see how the Freshmen players are indeed hazed more frequently and the heightened state in which they exist in comparison to the pseudo relaxed state the upperclassmen players exude. But uncertainty for all of them are ever present.

One character named Niles (Juston Street), who is notable for possessing a pitch that clocks in at a speed of 95 m.p.h. and a veritable lock for a professional career in baseball, is the most unhinged character in the film by a mile. And then, there is the team's sole African-American player named Dale (Quinton Johnson), an upperclassman and as much of an Alpha dog as any of his teammates but even so, I could only imagine his transition to to this small Texas college and the baseball team when he was a Freshman (certainly that could be a film all by itself).

For Jake and the baseball team players, the pecking order is ever shifting and tenuous. The reality of athletic injuries certainly could rest in the back of all of their minds as well. So, why not anesthetize the anxiety with as much drink, drugs and women as possible? This is the existential core of "Everybody Wants Some!!"--if being an athlete and sexually desirable defines me as a man, then if I fail, am I still a man? Inevitably, failure will become evident for some, if not most of these characters, but for now, for college, let the good time roll.

Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some!!" is a breezy, free flowing, often very funny, richly insightful and beautifully realized film filled with fully naturalistic performances from his entire cast, who collectively grow to become enormously endearing by the film's end, and even then, I still wanted to see more--from the remainder of that first class lecture to the first week and throughout the first year.

"Everybody Wants Some!!" is a virtual time machine, in cinematic presentation and soulful philosophy, again signifying how Richard Linklater is not only one of our most idiosyncratic filmmakers but also one of our most humane.

Friday, April 1, 2016


New month and at long last, new movies!!!!

Last month, I expressed that I did feel a bit of a need to take a short hiatus, as I needed to step away from movies and writing about movies after the huge output from the late 2015 releases and the Oscar season and telecast. Now, I am more than feeling the itch to get back to my local cinema and take in whatever 2016 has to offer me and this month, I am more than excited about three offerings in particular.

1. Writer/Director Jeff Nichols who has previously delivered the excellent psychological, apocalyptic thriller "Take Shelter" (2011) as well as the coming of age, summertime Gothic drama "Mud" (2012) returns with "Midnight Special," a science fiction themed film, his first in four years. Nichols has truly proven himself to be a filmmaker worth watching and I am very curious with his latest offering.
2. Richard Linklater's long awaited return after the glory of "Boyhood" (2014) finally arrives with "Everybody Wants Some!!" his self-described "spiritual sequel" to both "Dazed And Confused" (1993) and "Boyhood," as he delivers a weekend college romp in the year 1980. Just get me the ticket already!!!!
3. I have been waiting for this film for quite some time, so much so, that I even contributed a little taste to the film's crowd sourcing fund in order to get the film made! "Miles Ahead," an impressionistic exploration of the iconic Miles Davis as co-written, directed by and starring the brilliant Don Cheadle is finally being released this month and I am hoping that my local Sundance theater will be screening it.

Just to be able to stretch my movie muscles again will be great and hopefully, these three offerings will have more than enough to not only entertain but to also stimulate my writing muscles. So, as always, I ask that you send to me the very best of your well wishes...

...and I will see you when the house lights go down!!!!