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Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused is a truly remarkable film. The movie is one of the best coming-of-age stories that we’ve seen - outfitted with a wonderful collection of great actors, iconic performances, and one of the most endlessly listenable soundtracks we’ve heard – and it still remains as fresh and entertaining as ever. It’s a feature that never really needed a sequel, "spiritual" or otherwise - but somehow Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! - which just premiered at the SXSW Film Festival - still manages to feel like a project that we’ve been eagerly anticipating for the last 23 years.
Set in the fall of 1980 – giving the film a distinctly different flavor than its predecessor while possessing a similar vibe – the story centers on college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner), a baseball player who arrives at his Texas-based school and immediately finds himself mixed in with the ridiculous group of guys who will be both his teammates and housemates. In the days leading up to the first round of classes, Jake quickly assimilates with the tight-knit group of guys, bonding over girls, drinking, smoking weed, and playing ball. There’s no high-drama or strict script structure to speak of – instead playing as more of a "three days in the life" story – but with an eclectic ensemble of fun characters and a large collection of fantastically funny set-ups and situations, it hangs together as a great bit of cinema.
Because of the loose way in which it’s put together, appreciation for Everybody Wants Some!! almost entirely hangs on the audience’s feelings about hanging out with the gang of college baseball players at its center – but this is far from challenging, as you gain an immediate appreciation for their specific brand of rambunctiousness from the opening moments (which involves a ceiling nearly collapsing under the weight of a newly-filled waterbed). It’s a large ensemble to follow – with more than 10 characters playing integral parts in the narrative – but it’s made manageable just because of the wide variety of weird and great personalities that are thrown into the mix – including the disturbingly competitive McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin); the borderline insane Jay Niles (Juston Street); the bad gambler Nesbit (Austin Amelio); the epic pothead Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), and the southern-fried Billy Autrey (Will Brittain). Not only do they stand out as individuals, but just like with Dazed and Confused, there is a legitimate simple pleasure in watching the rambunctiousness of youth, as they constantly find themselves in circumstances ripe for antics and shenanigans.
Ultimately it’s the film’s period setting that legitimately gives it that "spiritual sequel" feel, and just like how Richard Linklater perfectly encapsulated the mid-1970s with Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is a fantastic trip back in time to 1980. The aesthetics are all fantastically on-point, from the various feathered haircuts to the various bars and nightclubs the ensemble frequents, but once again Linklater has also put together a soundtrack that movie-fans will be listening to for decades. Featuring tracks from Van Halen (naturally), The Sugar Hill Gang, The Knack, Foreigner, and even a punk version of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, there is an incredibly mix of diegetic and non-diegetic songs that the writer/director utilizes brilliantly to create a specific and special atmosphere.
In the two-and-a-half decades since Dazed and Confused was released, Richard Linklater has ventured into a wide variety of different genres and visual styles, but Everybody Wants Some!! has the filmmaker prove that you sometimes can go home again. Like his 1993 film, the movie is a celebration of the fun and freedom of youth, and it’s simply in capturing this spirit that makes it succeed.