Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Directed by Richard Linklater

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God, I love Richard Linklater.  His films feel so rich and personal and real.  I mean, his type of movies are right up my alley, so I’m coming from the perspective of someone who wants to love of his movies, and I absolutely do.

I resisted watching Everybody Wants Some!! for a while, and I didn’t have a good reason for this.  I just loved Boyhood so much, I think I wanted to believe that it was his masterpiece and he would just stop making movies.  Now, Boyhood isn’t perfect, but it’s perfectly imperfect in my mind.  It’s plotless, but that’s the point.  It’s meant to be a reflection of real life, and that’s why Linklater made the effort to film it over the course of 12 years.  In Boyhood and other Linklater films, stuff just kind of happens, and it always adds up to something that feels relatable, honest and remarkably profound.

Everybody Wants Some!! is similarly plotless like Boyhood.  It starts with a college freshman named Jake (Blake Jenner) arriving on campus and meeting his new roommates and baseball teammates.  This is a story not so much about Jake but about the community of ballplayers he’s in.

Jake and a few other characters occasionally take time to meditate on what it means to play baseball and what it means to be a part of something.  It’s not about Jake, it’s not about his teammates, it’s not about baseball, it’s about us.

There’s a moment at the end of the film where Jake arrives to his very first college class, fresh off an all nighter in which he connects with a girl he likes.  It was a night of drinking, talking, loving and no sleeping.  When he gets to class he sees a friend and teammate who we’ve come to know throughout the story.  There is no special connection between them other than that they’ve been around each other for the last three days, but this familiarity manifests itself in a quick, established handshake and shared joy despite their sleepless misery.  They’re tired, but it doesn’t matter.

I think we can all recognize that feeling.  I remember being in college, swamped among a sea of strangers, and seeing a friend who you instantly gravitate towards.  This may just be someone you met once, or it could be your best friend.  All that matters is that it’s someone you recognize and someone who recognizes you right back.  It’s in these small, almost invisible moments that we feel connected to the world and to everything that makes us human.

Jake tells the girl he likes, Beverly (Zoey Deutch), that he wrote his college application essay on the myth of Sisyphus and how it connects to baseball.  Sisyphus is the character who endlessly rolls the boulder up the hill, only to watch it fall to the bottom, making him start all over again.  It’s a story that usually represents futility, but Jake explains how he thought the boulder gave the character a purpose, and that means something.  Everything we do is ultimately a bit pointless, but it’s all about creating meaning for yourself.  Jake finds that through the camaraderie of his baseball team, and Beverly finds it in a similar way, with performance art and with her performer friends.

Jake is in many ways the least interesting character of the story, at least until he tells Beverly about that essay.  He’s tall and handsome and nice, but he’s surrounded by characters who have embraced a way of living that he is only just about to be introduced to.  Jake, then, is the vessel through which we view the real story.  At the end, Jake’s story about Sisyphus tells us he’s enlightened enough to recognize how little he knows.  He embraces the oddballs and weirdos and strongly competitive jocks that surround him the same way we do as the audience.

Now, I think there are a lot of films about a group of people who hang out and like each other.  In these stories, the audience always seems to recognize how much fun they must be having while it seems lost on the characters.  Hell, think of Ocean’s Eleven, for example.  It’s a heist movie, but it has plenty of humor, and part of me, while watching the movie, just wanted the characters to say, ‘hey this is kind of fun.’  But that’s the feeling the audience is supposed to have, not the characters.

In Everybody Wants Some!!, Jake feels the way we do.  This really is so much fun, and it should be fun.  These are kids who are kind of adults but don’t have the responsibility of adults.  They have a house that’s been donated to them, and all they seem to do on the weekends is drink, party, talk about baseball, play baseball, talk about girls, chase girls and play ultra-competitive games with each other.

The other ballplayers around Jake are much more expressive or committed to the person they’ve decided to be.  Jake is like a blank slate, but the other guys are starting down a path that will help determine who they are as adults long after college.  You have McReynolds, the leader of the team who is the most competitive on the team but also able to take a step back and see that this is all a game.  In one scene, he gets into a verbal fight with a particularly determined and peculiar pitcher who decides to give 150% in the first practice of the year, while other guys are warming up.  McReynolds puts him in his place (by hitting a homer off him), and later when the pitcher tries to apologize but can’t get the words out, McReynolds simply says, “we’re good.”

This is the closest the film comes to traditional movie conflict.  You’re led to think that the hyper-competitive nature of the guys is going to boil over, but it doesn’t.  Linklater creates this world where nothing is all that bad and everything is pretty great, you just have to pay attention to what matters.

There is the bearded transfer student from California who rolls joints and likes to talk about the cosmos.  He turns out to be thirty years old and is asked to leave.  When the other guys talk about him, they rationalize his behavior, saying ‘hey he just wants to keep playing ball.’  And all those guys just want to keep playing ball.  A couple of them might have their sights set on professional baseball, but most of them aren’t deluded into thinking they have a future in the sport.  That makes the present all that more important.   It’s not about playing college baseball as a means to an end, rather it’s about playing a game you love with people you come to love.

Now, I’m trying to think how this story might be different if our de facto protagonist wasn’t as enlightened as Jake.  He’s easy to like, but his charm, good looks, athleticism and ease with which he is accepted into a group might be off putting because everything comes easy to him.  But Jake recognizes that this is special.  He doesn’t expect any of this or decide that it’s his right.  He doesn’t take anything for granted, he’s just happy to be there.  And sure he is a little cocky, but he (and we) pretty quickly see that everyone is a little cocky there.  It’s part of the tribe, and Jake is just trying to fit in.

This story (and this world) might come off as a little irritating because of how much of a bubble it is.  I once read criticism for the film The Kids Are All Right (2010), about a lesbian couple whose kids want to meet their father, that said the characters’ problems don’t matter.  And sure, in the grand scheme of things they don’t matter, just like Jake’s story doesn’t matter.  It might be easy to see these characters on the street and roll your eyes at them.  They’re loud and rowdy and perhaps a little unprepared for real life after college.  They don’t matter, but that too is the point because nothing matters.

The world in this movie is very brief.  It only takes place over the course of a few days.  We’re not supposed to think that this is the way life will always be for Jake and the gang.  Instead, we know it’s only a moment, that it’s fleeting.  A lot of Linklater’s films feel like this.  They recognize the power of ‘now,’ and they celebrate it because just as quickly as it arrived, it will be gone.

So you may not find joy in the same things Jake does, but hopefully you can recognize that joy when it finds you.

The other aspect of this film that I find so engaging is the depiction of communities and tribes.  One later afternoon, Jake and a few other ballplayers walk around near campus going nowhere in particular.  Just them walking around (with a destination that they don’t care if they don’t reach) is a good microcosm for the film.  They’re just existing, and they come across a grungy house of 1980 punk rocker types.  These guys where dark leather and chains, and their hair is butchered and their skin pale.  This is in almost direct contrast to the ballplayers who are strong, tan, tall and adorned in backwards hats and colorful t-shirts.  But Jake recognizes an old high school teammate who is now one of the punks.  The rest of the guys are invited in for a drink, and at first you might think they won’t understand this new tribe, but they get along swimmingly.

They all go to a punk rock show that night, and the baseball jocks dress themselves in more punk attire to fit in, and they have a great time.  This feels like such an optimistic and heartwarming depiction of group identification and the ways we can see each other through the makeup, accents, attitudes and musical interests.  We’re all just people underneath.

Later the group will do this again when they go to a party hosted by Beverly’s acting community.  Everyone dresses in a particular costume, and the ballplayers quickly assimilate, putting on hats and masks like everyone else.

There is certainly a lot of privilege in this film, and I suppose that might be a valid criticism of these characters, but again I’d say that this film is so specific in who it’s about that you can see how it’s really about everyone and everything.  By being specific, it becomes universal.

Richard Linklater grew up in Texas and played college baseball, and it’s easy to see how this is a very personal film to him.  He loves these characters like he loves all his characters.  His movies are filled with interesting people who aren’t afraid to express themselves whether they realize it or not.  Sometimes it might be a creepy guy chasing younger women, sometimes it’s a guy wilting as he’s yelled at by strangers in a coffee shop and sometimes it’s a pothead talking about the universe.  People are so beautiful and interesting if given the room to express themselves and form their own opinions.  Someone like Mason from Boyhood knows he’s expressing himself when he speaks about the world, Facebook and fleeting moments.  Sometimes this comes off as bullshit and occasionally it’s a little enlightening.

Other characters have no idea what they’re doing, and that’s just as beautiful.  You can’t always trace your attitudes, decision-making processes and hairstyle to a particular choice or influence.  We’re just this accumulation of memories, genetic codes and everyday experiences.

 

The way a group comes together is like the way a person and their mind is formed.  It’s this almost subconscious grouping of stimuli, and by the end of a period of time you find yourself a different person just as you find yourself hanging out with a group of people you didn’t know not long ago.  We grow individually while we grow together, and those things are always happening.

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