If modesty remains a virtue in the crass, celebrity-driven pop culture of 2016, then Austin, Texas-based filmmaker Richard Linklater may be in line for sainthood. From studio-driven movies like Bad News Bears and School of Rock to fiercely independent films such as Slacker and Tape, Linklater's career adds up to a uniquely humanist, ego-free zone of creativity. There's a warm, unhurried quality to each of his films that suggests there's meaning in the stuff of everyday life if we would only take time to see it.
Nowhere is that perspective more pronounced than in Linklater's occasional, loosely autobiographical films. His third feature, 1993's Dazed and Confused, put the director on the map for good with a funny and true-to-life recreation of high school in mid-1970s, suburban Texas. Linklater's 2014 six-time Oscar-nominated Boyhood compacted 12 years in the life of its young protagonist to reveal simple truths only accessible through the lens of time.
Officially described as the "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! returns to small-town Texas for its main character's freshman year at college in 1980. Like the earlier film, it conjures a specific time and place with loving precision in tems of physical details, from absurdly short shorts to the glories of wood-paneled rec rooms to each character's soul-baring collection of vinyl records. More important, it distills the essence of that era, at least as experienced by those enjoying adult freedoms for the first time while away at college. In narrative terms, nothing much happens in Everybody Wants Some!! — but that is central to its charms.
The story begins with the arrival of freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) at two off-campus houses serving as home to fictional Southeast Texas State University's nationally ranked baseball team. It's the final weekend before classes start, and Jake and his new teammates are primed to make the most of it.
As suggested by the title of the film (taken from a Van Halen song of the time with double exclamation-points intact), the boys spend most of their time pursuing girls — at least when they're not engaging in pointless competition, bonding as brothers or hitting the bong with unbridled gusto. Their thoughtless male entitlement wouldn't last 10 minutes on a campus today. But their innocence contrasts sharply with the cynicism and misogyny found in many current Hollywood bro comedies.
Linklater's filmmaking skills have improved substantially over the 23 years since he made Dazed and Confused. The characters are far more distinctive, and individual scenes are expertly paced to keep viewers engaged. A strong ensemble cast features several first-time actors and contributes mightily to the film's appeal. There's bit more nostalgia than in most of Linklater's work, but that's to be expected of a 55-year-old director looking back to his youth for the substance of a film.
One thing that hasn't changed is Linklater's gift for using period music to bring depth and emotional vibrancy to his films. The soundtrack features songs of every imaginable type — ranging from Pat Benatar to Stiff Little Fingers — all perfectly married to individual scenes.
A sequence in which the boys exchange well-executed verses of Sugar Hill Gang's proto-hip-hop classic "Rapper's Delight" ranks among the film's best, in part because it goes on far longer than most filmmakers would allow. The scene recalls a time when era-defining music was shared by just about everyone, building community and connectedness that now seems lost to the ages. Everybody wants some, indeed.