Film / Reviews

Linklater swaps tension for jock jokes in ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’

by Giovanni Fazio

Special To The Japan Times

With his 1993 major studio debut, “Dazed & Confused,” director Richard Linklater tried to go mainstream with the style he’d explored in his Gen-X defining indie hit “Slacker.” Set on the last day of school in the summer of 1976, “Dazed” felt like it was happening in real time, with a huge cast of characters that kept bouncing off each other like the director was playing some human pinball game.

With its lack of a focused plot and its reliance on young unknowns in the cast, the studio hated “Dazed” and did not give it much of a push (it went straight to video in Japan), but it has since become a cult classic. Sure, “Dazed” had the stoner humor going for it, but Linklater cannily anticipated ’70s retro before it was a thing, and his “unknowns” turned out to include Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey and more.

Beyond that, it was honest, showing how high school was both BFFs and horrible cliques, delicious first kisses and hellish hazing. Linklater didn’t impose anyone’s viewpoint so much as accept them all, painting the totality of the high school experience.

Some 23 years later — after the success of “Boyhood” brought him the chance to make any film he’d like — Linklater picks up where he left off with a sequel to “Dazed.”

Set in 1980, “Everybody Wants Some!!” follows laid-back baseball recruit Jake (Blake Jenner) as he arrives at college for his first term; if Wiley Wiggins’ character from “Dazed” — the cool, quiet 14-year-old Little League pitcher who starts hanging with the older kids — went on to become a varsity athlete and not a total stoner, this would be him.

“Everybody Wants Some!!” — named after the period hit by Van Halen — starts on the weekend prior to the first day of classes, as Jake meets his roommates at the off-campus house provided to the school’s baseball elite, a frat house in all but name. There’s the swaggering ladies’ man, the hyper-competitive douche, the bearded dope fiend, the fast-talking jokester, the hick, the sweet dim-witted kid, the aggro nutter, etc., but one thing’s for sure — they’re all jocks, and all they want is to get wasted and get laid.

With one weekend to kill before classes and practice begin, the boys party hearty in tail-end-of-the-’70s style, a last flourish of excess that would soon be snuffed out by AIDS and the Reagan-era “Just Say No” abstinence campaigns.

There’s some interest to be found in the cultural flux — the boys go to a funky discotheque one night, and an “Urban Cowboy”-themed faux-redneck bar the next — but this critic’s suspension of disbelief collapsed when the bros hang at a punk club and an arty theater-kid party with lots of people in drag. Anyone who dared to look even vaguely punk or gay in this era knew that their mortal enemies were jocks.

That’s the kind of tension “Dazed and Confused” would have noted, but it’s completely missing here. The hazing scene in “Dazed” was uncomfortably harsh, potentially traumatizing, but in “Everybody Wants Some!!,” hazing’s just played for a joke. The same is true of the toxic frat-boy attitude toward women — generally referred to in terms a newspaper can’t print — which is basically: Get them drunk and into bed.

Boys being boys is true enough, but the specter of date rape hangs so heavily over this film that it becomes more than a bit creepy.

Lead character Jake’s budding relationship with an intelligent performing-arts major with posters of Joni Mitchell on her dorm room wall seems to come out of nowhere; it’s like a scene from “Before Sunrise” popping up in a Zac Efron comedy. It’s all a bit of a bro’verdose.