Linklater is allergic to plot, but that’s ok. As a writer-director, Richard Linklater has a well-established history of making movies that emphasize characters, dialogue, and moments rather than story or plot. On the Linklater spectrum, from the Before trilogy (aggressively plotless) to Bernie (vaguely plot-driven), Everybody Wants Some!! is somewhere in the middle. While it’s true that there’s barely a semblance of a three-act structure, enough interesting and fun things happen that it’s difficult to complain about (or even notice) the lack of a real plot. This shouldn’t surprise those familiar with Linklater’s breakout Dazed and Confused (1993), but to everyone else: just picture Animal House (1978) crossed with The Bad News Bears (1976) minus the clearly established goals and stakes of either movie.
It ain’t all fun and games….but it’s almost all fun and games. Jake and his teammates spend the majority of the movie drinking, smoking, and chasing girls, as college kids in the post-Vietnam pre-AIDS era (or any era) were wont to do. Though the baseball team spends considerably more time partying than playing baseball, it’s important to note that this isn’t a band of lovable losers; the movie makes a point to say that the team is nationally ranked, the best sports team on campus, and made up of players who were all superstars on their respective high school teams. While it may seem like these characters take absolutely nothing seriously, that’s just a façade they put up. They care very much about baseball, and more importantly, about each other. As someone who played baseball up until college, that rings true for me; as much as teammates joke and rag on each other (and as much as they may actively dislike each other, in some cases), they’re still teammates, through and through.
Specificity can still be broad and universal. I’m personally pleased with how accurately the movie captures the social dynamics of a baseball team – camaraderie, pranks, superstitions, egos, and a few weirdos – but I’m also impressed by how much the tone and cadence of a musical theater student’s dialogue – bright, articulate, and almost sing-song – sounds exactly like the musical theater kids I hung out with in college. Those may seem like minor observations, but when a movie is dealing with a very specific time and place, the authenticity and specificity matter a great deal. Regardless of whether this specificity applies to you directly, the overall message of the movie is carefully constructed to be broader. It goes beyond baseball, beyond musical theater, beyond this unbridled college experience, beyond 1980. Linklater writes movies about the here and now (see Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy, and Boyhood), and that’s just what this is. Through all the fun and impossibly-tight clothes of 1980, the movie eventually circles back to Linklater’s signature profound conversations: about being in a time and place that you feel alive, doing something that you feel alive doing, doing something you care about with people you care about.
Though simple and bordering on plotless, Everybody Wants Some!! is elevated by infectious fun and surprising profundity and sincerity.