There’s only one man who could give a big heart to a college tale of sex, drugs and too much baseball. Soft family dramatist Richard Linklater’s first big post-Boyhood project at times seems idiosyncratic almost to the point of self-parody, but then again, he’s never been one to shy away from fully kitting out a cliché. I spot about ten in the opening sequence of Everybody Wants Some!!, as immaculate 80s ‘freshman’ Jake pulls up outside an oversized and understated suburban family home, carries in a box of records, and is immediately interrogated by two burly jocks far too old to be at college who are in the throes of destroying the baseball team’s kitchen.
The frat house-isms flow thick and fast from thereon in, but by the time Linklater has established his ensemble – an alpha male, psychotic goofball, music-loving stoner and black best friend to boot – there is already a deliberate self-awareness to it all which sets a cleverly malleable tone. Linklater dissects the college movie formula by assembling it; the components are scrutinised as they slot far too easily into place. The best part of it all is, despite the carefully trimmed sideburns and vigilantly conscious dialogue, it’s still all great fun.
Playing out over the drug and drink-hazed long weekend before classes start, Linklater’s script ticks along gently and refuses to be rushed, indulging in lengthier scenes and neatly-cut montages, and managing to condense the whole college experience into one three-day bender. Jake and the fellow newcomers are put through their paces as the sophomores pack in all the booze, ping-pong, women and bongs that they can muster, with each day heralding a new set of hedonistic, misogynistic, and yet somehow buoyantly wholesome travails.
Again, Linklater ramps up the parody value, as each night touches a new base (baseball pun: strike one) and embraces a cultural niche: first a classic nightclub-cum-house party, then a cowboy bar, on to a punk gig and finally to a performing arts extravaganza. The pointedness of it all is what pulls it off – the double joke nestled in the genre-humour – though you do have to wonder if the ironic directorial wink is really just an excuse to play with time-honoured and tested tropes, rather than as a means of doing something new.
That said, deliberate cardboard cut-out characters in the opening act find depth in succeeding phases, as the lack of any real story and the inexorable pastiche effect gives over to a surprisingly complex series of excavations. Often Linklater goes in for the slow develop and cooks up a treat; eternally bullied country hick Beuter finds his feet in the group at the cost of his dignity, played out in a slew of should-we-be-laughing set pieces, and a particularly effective weed routine throws back the laughs in order to get in a poignant payoff about what it means to be in perpetual competition with your peers.
The band of men-children is two or three faces too many, but fast-paced and witty performances mean that enough of them jump out for you to care about the fate of the group. Zoe Deutch is a revelation, giving an underused yet extremely well-pitched turn (strike two) as Jake’s love interest Beverley – she brings a distinctive palette needed to make a potential on-page charisma drain pop. Most importantly, for a period piece which inevitably relies on style to carry the substance, the production design, wardrobe and soundtrack are a triumvirate made in 80s disco heaven.
It’s a careful juggling act that Linklater pulls off, mining the well of generational pop culture and the college movie formula and remodelling it with just enough wit, warmth and self-scrutiny to make something entertaining and not completely vacuous. From the master of the happy-go-lucky, sting-in-the-tail romp comes another home-run. And I’m out.