Thursday, April 30, 2020

Revisiting ‘Everybody Wants Some


It doesn’t come up in conversations regarding Linklater’s most canonical films like Boyhood, Slacker, Waking Life, the Before trilogy, and of course the aforementioned Dazed and Confused, but Everybody Wants Some!! is maybe the director’s finest deep cut, a baseball movie about emerging self-awareness that doubles as a nostalgic homage to a period when being young was less fraught with complication (or at least perceived as such).

Linklater’s movies often seem to exist in their own time-space continuum and Everybody Wants Some!! is no different. The film takes place during a three-day period when its protagonist and Linklater stand-in Jake Bradford (prior to his filmmaking days, Linklater was a prized pitching recruit at Sam Houston State University) arrives at college, meets his teammates, parties hard, falls in love, and has his first team practice and his first day of class. The pace is languid and the tone wistful, even as the action is frequently antic.

Like Yasujiro Ozu or Ingmar Bergman, Linklater possesses an intuitive understanding of time’s strange properties. All days are technically the same length, but life isn’t like that. Some seem to fly by in an instant, and some stretch out forever. Retrospectively, they are frequently transformed by the gentle distortions of memory or warped by the twinned elixirs of nostalgia and trauma. By the end of the picture’s two-hour run time, we understand what Jake cannot possibly grasp in the moment, that the entire template of his life has shifted permanently in 72 hours of seemingly prosaic activity.

Linklater’s subtle build to this realization is another testimony to the patient genius of his vernacular. By eschewing the tendency of so many filmmakers to freight certain scenes with a veritable blinking billboard that reads THIS IS SIGNIFICANT, he replicates an authentic experience of life and growth more adroitly than all but a few of his contemporaries.

Everybody Wants Some!! begins with Jake arriving at his new dwellings—a broken-down two-story colonial that serves as the baseball dorm—where he is confronted with enough baffling characters and indecipherable rituals to fall through his own personal looking glass. Depicted with an affable, empty-vessel vacancy by Glee alumnus Blake Jenner, Jake moves through the world with the unselfconscious swagger of the physically gifted and relentlessly handsome. Still, he is nonplussed by an encounter with team captain and All-American Glenn McReynolds, he of the exacting attitude and Keith Hernandez mustache, who informs him the two will never be friends, as the hitter/pitcher divide is inherently too wide a chasm to overcome socially.

Strange encounters ensue and escalate: A waterbed nearly crashes through the floor, his fellow pitchers are heroically stoned at 3 p.m., and his roommate is an abrasive cowpoke who talks endlessly to his girlfriend on the telephone wearing only underwear.

Much of the comedy of Everybody Wants Some!! derives from the confident but green Jake becoming gradually more discombobulated as events unfold. In these opening moments, you sense he is puzzling over a possibility that had likely never occurred to him: Maybe these people genuinely don’t care for me? This turns out to be more or less a red herring: Among the central insights of Everybody Wants Some!! is the borderline cult-like fellowship common to high-level sports. Whether they like Jake is immaterial—he is of the brotherhood. Ten minutes into the film the gentle hazing is done. Jake tries begging off a senior-mandated drinking session at a local watering hole and is told “Bullshit, you’re on the team now!”

From the aspirational student group of School of Rock to the urgently organized freshmen pushback to cruel senior class behavior in Dazed & Confused, Linklater has long been fascinated by teamwork and its sundry dynamics. Everybody Wants Some!! is the director’s deepest dive into that topic, bringing together a ragtag group of individuals from different walks of life and embroidering them together in a less-than-seamless tapestry that hones their competitive edge to borderline lethal levels.

We ultimately know little of the individual backstories of most of Jake’s teammates, but enough to surmise that they represent a reasonably diverse cross section of temperaments and interests. What unites them is this: There is quite literally nothing they will not compete over. As the film unfolds, nearly every scene involves some manner of contest. Whether it’s playing ping-pong or picking up women or ripping bong hits, the unifying commonality is the neurotic impulse to turn every activity, no matter how inconsequential, into a matter of winning and losing.

Most people who have played team sports have encountered the sort of individual who is preternaturally driven to be the best. Sports documentaries typically lionize these tendencies in uncomplicated ways. In Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater hints at something different: the notion that competitiveness at this level is a quirk at best and a sort of madness at worst, a deeply compulsive behavior bordering on anti-social for those without these particular attributes. In this instance, being on the team is a little like being in the asylum. No sports movie has driven home this point quite so deliberately: It’s the jocks that are the freaks. “Bullshit, you’re on the team now!” is just a borderline strike call away from “One of us! One of us!”