Dazed and Confused is one of those movies that I always assumed was just kind of stupid. It seemed like a pointless high school comedy like—I don’t know—American Pie or Superbad… neither of which I’ve seen, but both of which I assume are pretty stupid. Anyway, point is, I assumed the same thing about Dazed and Confused and was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong when I actually watched it. Richard Linklater’s follow-up to his sleeper hit Slackers launched him on the path to receiving five Oscar nominations without ever actually winning something, and we all want to get there someday. Aside from solidifying his career and introducing the world to Matthew McConaughey, Dazed and Confused is well-remembered for being, in the simplest way, a really good, unexpectedly poignant movie. Since then, Linklater’s career has seen some highs (like School of Rock, Boyhood, and Before Sunset) and some lows (A Scanner Darkly, Bad News Bears) and a whole lot of in-between.
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
The Plot: A college baseball team gets off-campus (e.g. unsupervised) housing for the first time. That’s pretty much it. That’s the plot.
Like Dazed and Confused, Linklater’s latest doesn’t have much to it on paper. Sometimes I wonder how he pitches these concepts to producers. Dazed and Confused documents the shenanigans of a bunch of small-town high school students on their last day of high school in the late 1970s. Everybody Wants Some!! documents the shenanigans of a bunch of college students on their last days before classes start in the early 1980s. Unsurprisingly, both films are heavily inspired by Linklater’s own experiences, and due to the similarly unfocused natures of the synopses, people have been making lots of comparisons between the two movies, myself included.
Sure enough, the movies feel quite a lot alike. Kids get up to kid stuff, the comedy appropriately ranges from stupid to clever, as it does in real life, the soundtracks are carefully selected to capture a moment in pop culture, and because of all these things, and the fact that Linklater based them on his memories, both movies are heaped in nostalgia, but also mostly feel very genuine. Where Everybody Wants Some!! fails in comparison to its predecessor is in its depth and its message. Dazed and Confused had an effortless appeal, in part due to how genuine and real it felt, but mostly because of its cast of characters. That movie focuses on people from across the entire spectrum of high school archetypes, and dedicates pretty even amounts of screen time to each, so no matter who you were in high school, you can connect with at least one character. Everybody Wants Some!! seems totally spot-on in that way, but unless you happened to be a jock in college, you won’t find a lot of depth here. Its message is very specific, as is its humor and the problems its characters face. Spoiler alert, I was not a jock in college. From scene to scene, Everybody Wants Some!! had nothing meaningful to say to me.
Almost as if Linklater knew this, though, he includes one of his now-signature preachy scenes at the end, wherein the characters very clearly state what they have learned. Did you see Boyhood? I liked Boyhood until that stupid ending where the main character delivers this stoner speech about life, so filled with clichés and nonsense that it actually culminates in the utterance, “We don’t seize the moment. The moment seizes us.” Shudder and cringe. Linklater’s latest does the same thing at the end, but without such blatantly offensive one-liners, apparently trying to cover for the fact that it lacks a universal appeal. It should have just embraced that fact and moved on.
So, it’s specific to a fault. It’s so genuine and accurate that only a certain type can relate to it. Oh well. It’s not a bad movie, and I certainly don’t regret watching it. It’s funny. I laughed out loud several times at Linklater’s slice-of-life slapstick comedy and quippy dialogue. If this had been his first movie, it would have been a staggering achievement, and everyone would have loved it. Coming so late in his career, though, over twenty years on from Dazed and Confused and after those five aforementioned Oscar nominations, it feels like a half-baked, juvenile film, the kind of movie you should make when you’re twenty-eight or thirty, before you’ve learned all of the ropes. It’s a step back from his usual fair, but maybe he needed a break. I think Boyhood really took it out of him. Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t really earn its two titular exclamation points, but it’s a fun movie and showcases a lot of lesser-known actors in roles that could prove important in their burgeoning careers. It’s worth a laugh.