Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! is the greatest college party flick since Animal House (1978). Granted, the competition has never been particularly strong: Revenge of the Nerds (1984) botches the raunchy tone of its crazy antecedent and winds up becoming genuinely creepy; PCU (1994), lacking the human frat party that is John Belushi, tries to make up for it with desperately absurdist humour that never comes together; and Old School (2003), in which none of the protagonists are actually at college, falls somewhere in the middle of ‘downbeat character study’ and ‘randy tits-and-ass fest’. Not only does Everybody Wants Some sidestep most of these issues, it also builds on the precedent of Animal House by carrying forward that film’s most valuable aspect: the hang-out feel.
Set during the final days of the baking summer of 1980, Animal House was likely a diegetic influence on the characters themselves, with protagonist Jake (Blake Jenner) arriving full of expectations that recall the almost vocational drives of the National Lampoon’s sex-hungry lunatics. As he pulls up on campus, he slows his car to check out the local talent, his eyes – and the camera – getting a preliminary clock on the tight denim shorts of some faceless sorority girl. Shortly afterwards, he meets his new housemates, sauntering in with the naïve, unassuming confidence of someone who used to be relatively popular at high school.
However, his first lesson at college is that you can’t bring your reputation with you, and he’s immediately humbled by the massive personalities of his older, moustachioed housemates. Everyone, it seems, is part of this borderline impenetrable clique with pre-established social standing and well-honed pickup lines, and Jake is immediately relegated to the status of ‘the quiet guy in the backseat of the car’. He wisely takes a step back to observe the rules and rituals of this surreal new world he’s found himself in, recalling the Wiley Wiggins character in Linklater’s early career highpoint, Dazed and Confused (1993). Indeed, the selling point of Everybody Wants Some is that it’s a ‘spiritual sequel’ to Dazed and Confused, and it uses a similar sort of structure as it follows Jake’s quest to establish himself in this new, much cooler social situation.
Instead of simply re-treading the beats that made Dazed such a cultural mainstay in the first place, though, Linklater allows the film to live and breathe on its own terms. What distinguishes Jake from Dazed’s Mitch Kramer is that he enters the film assured, given his talents as a baseball pitcher, that everything will be gravy when he arrives at college. He never devolves into a defensive, nervous wreck like Mitch, and that’s why he’s our protagonist: we’re seeing the world of college in 1980 through the eyes of someone who’s headstrong enough to not let his own anxieties get in the way of the story. Drawing from his own experiences at college – just as his time at high school informed Dazed and Confused – Linklater retains his trademark breezy aesthetic and combines it with the drunken hijinks of, as mentioned, Animal House.
Using its parties as set pieces, Everybody Wants Some follows the group of characters first to a disco club, then to a country bar, followed by a punk gig, and finally to an art major’s house party, each night bonding the characters in different ways. After-parties back at their pad see girl-on-girl mudwrestling, boys surfing down the stairs on their quickly filthy mattresses, and punch made up of several different types of cheap, terrible looking alcohol. Careful to avoid slipping into the trappings of ‘party porn’, however, Linklater leans less on the anarchic campus terrorism of Animal House, and more towards the reckless self-discovery of American Pie 2 (2001) – one of the only worthwhile films about college parties to arise since that dubious subgenre became a thing.
Like Animal House, though, the characters in Everybody Wants Some are absolutely horrible to one another. They ridicule their housemate Beuter (Will Brittain) for his Texan characteristics, even though the university itself is in Texas. The older students duct tape the freshmen to a fence and bat baseballs at them, even though they nearly took a kid’s eye out the last time they did it. They frequently sabotage each other’s attempts at picking up girls, which is a symptom of the relentless competitive streak that drives each character through their every waking moment. But as prone as they are to tantrums and crab mentality, there is never a moment where these characters are not inseparably bonded. The central group of characters in Everybody Wants Some aren’t a fraternity but they’re fraternal, and the chemistry between the actors is an endlessly renewable source of energy that carries the film all the way through to the battered, exhausted finale: the first day of class.
Everybody Wants Some slots in nicely alongside contemporary college flicks, notably Bad Neighbours (2014) – or Neighbours in the States – which amplifies both the party porn and the married-life crisis of Old School and manages to make a much better film out of them, as well as 22 Jump Street (2014), which, among other things, lampoons the EDM-fuelled binge culture of campus life while maintaining a sharp commentarial undertone. Like these films, Everybody Wants Some avoids the cheap and sleazy caricaturing of Spring Breakers (2013), or the dangerously misogynistic ‘humour’ of Revenge of the Nerds, and presents its horndog characters as eager, narrow-minded, pseudo-lothario hormone vessels who, despite everything, know full well that no means no.
Within Linklater’s filmography, though, Everybody Wants Some is simply the latest in the director’s extraordinary winning streak that he’s enjoying this decade. He’s back on phenomenal form following a hit-and-miss decade where, despite making his best film to date – Before Sunset (2004) – his scores were few and far between. He’s now working at a consistent level of quality we haven’t seen since his breakthrough period – Slacker (1991), Dazed in Confused, and Before Sunrise (1995) – and part of the reason may simply be to do with age. Films like Slacker are great because of their raw, youthful ambition, but the work he’s produced since the sorely undervalued Bernie (2011) has the finesse of a wiser filmmaker wholly in control of his own vision.
With Everybody Wants Some, Linklater has used that finesse to successfully enliven his own college memories, his greatest tool being feeling instead of detail: after a night at the disco, Jake’s house becomes swarmed with horny students dancing vibrantly in each other’s laps to Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk”, the air humid with sweat and warm beer, and the characters looking as smooth and brazenly confident as that song’s exhilarating brass section. Here, college is an almost stateless region where everyone is free to express themselves however they wish, and, with Linklater keeping it largely sleaze-free, it’s a hell of a good time watching them do so.
- The soundtrack is incredible. My favourite scene of the year is currently the one where the characters are driving around reciting every word of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”.
- Glen Powell is awesome as Finnegan, and his mere screen presence is exhilarating. I want to be friends with this guy.
- As with Dazed and Confused upon its release, barely any of the actors in Everybody Wants Some are big names, save for Blake Jenner of Glee fame. This works in the film’s favour, because there’s a noticeable lack of ego in the performances, and it allows everyone to bond in a really natural way.