Everybody Wants Some!! begins where Richard Linklater’s 2014 indie hit Boyhood left off: with an 18-year-old brunette kid arriving for his freshman year at college. Here, it’s 1980 Texas, and the teen in question is Jake (Blake Jenner), a strapping baseball pitcher with slightly hunched gorilla posture and a big bright smile. He shows up four days before the start of classes to find that his new home is a going-to-seed off-campus house populated by rude, crude, cocky teammates. Surrounded by jocks who are solely interested in talking trash, competing with each other at every turn and throwing back cans of Schlitz while prowling for sex, they’re a boorish bunch, and their introduction immediately positions Linklater’s latest on shaky ground, as something like an inversion of Revenge of the Nerds in which the entitled bully douchebags are reimagined as the good guys.
Amidst these unpleasant clowns, Jake (whose status as a more profound “intellectual” is confirmed by his ability to quote poetry) can’t help but come off as audience proxy—palatable but far too bland and blank to elicit anything approaching real engagement. His self-aware remarks about identity peg him as our clunky exposition-spouting device, and so he remains a serviceable tour guide through the rowdy shenanigans of these devil-may-care delinquents. Their days devoted to slacking off, their nights spent trimming mustaches and dousing themselves in cologne before hitting the town in search of the next woman to bed, Linklater’s play-hard-and-party-harder characters are the embodiment of cocksure macho vitality, all of them rightly convinced that, at least for the moment, they have the world by the balls.
Everybody Wants Some!! is intended to play like a spiritual companion piece to Linklater’s ’70s-era Dazed and Confused, with the writer/director reveling in his turn-of-the-decade’s style and swagger. Big lapels, bigger hair, even bigger facial hair and outright enormous egos are the norm throughout this nostalgic saga. Boasting little in the way of plot, Linklater’s film is content to sidle up alongside Jake and his new friends to see where their appetites, whims and libidos will lead. And its laid-back vibe pays modest dividends as it progresses, given that one-note characters who initially appeared to be smug louts, hyper-gonzo wild cards, dim-bulb doofuses or inane hillbillies slowly develop semi-distinct personalities of their own.
That’s most true in the case of Finn (Glen Powell), the resident Steve Stifler-style charmer whose way with words proves his finest woman-wooing tool. It also pertains to Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a bearded stoner with a massive Twilight Zone VHS collection who, in the film’s funniest scene, inhales an unholy amount of smoke from a double-chambered bong and then, while an LP spins, drifts away on a tangent about finding true happiness in life’s figurative notes between the notes. However, while Everybody Wants Some!! pulls off the not-inconsiderable trick of slowly making unlikable college studs tolerable, it can’t go one step further and make them transcend their unfunny archetypal construction—including Jake, whose budding romance with fellow freshman Beverly (Zoey Deutch) is a tepid non-starter.
Everyone involved here is, at heart, a two-dimensional type, and worse still, their hijinks—scored to hits by Devo, The Knack, Dire Straits, The Car and (naturally, given the film’s title) Van Halen—are of a ho-hum sub-Animal House variety, replete with athletes using golf clubs to smack beer cans off their residence’s roof, spiking punch with liters of alcohol and arguing with roommates over the opportunity to use bedrooms for getting lucky. There’s also some requisite team-based hazing thrown in for good measure, which feels like an authentic representation of what dudes like this would be up to—and, consequently, serves as a buzzkill reminder of their fundamentally dude-bro nature.
In nightly succession, Jake and his crew frequent a disco, a country line-dancing bar, a punk-rock show and a theater-arts party—providing a cross-section of early-’80s subcultures that feels as contrived as the screenplay’s phony depiction of its protagonists as the sorts of men who’d be open-minded enough to tolerate people so different from themselves (and who, in return, would be accepted by those “others”). That sort of disingenuousness also extends to the proceedings’ utopian racial dynamics, with the southern school’s white ballplayers gleefully singing along to The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and their sole African-American member, Dale (Quinton Johnson), being treated as just one of the guys by teammates, friends, women and anyone else whose path he crosses. Such an inclusive vision is heartening, but given the action’s 1980 time period and frat boy-ish milieu, it also comes across as merely more clunky wish-fulfillment from a sporadically amusing, if unconvincing, film eager to imagine jocks as horndogs with hearts of gold.