Zoey Deutch and Blake Jenner in "Everybody Wants Some!!" Van Redin via Tribune News Service

Pleasant ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ offers nostalgic view of college, falls short

Billed as a follow-up to “Dazed and Confused” (1993) and “Boyhood” (2014), “Everybody Wants Some!!,” released March 30, is writer-director Richard Linklater’s latest entry into his genre of films that are more experiences than stories. Whether that experience is worth the price of admission depends on the viewer. Here, the experience is pure ’80s college nostalgia, and for those whose knowledge of the ’80s comes from music, movies and history class, it isn’t enough.

Where “Dazed” and “Boyhood” closed on the transition out of high school, here Linklater opens on college pitching recruit Jake (Blake Jenner) cruising onto campus in his Oldsmobile 442, The Knack’s “My Sharona” (1979) blasting on the cassette player.

The mood is set — Jake and his teammates will spend their long weekend before the start of classes doing everything one would expect: pounding cans of Schlitz beer, bisecting thrown baseballs with an axe, playing Space Invaders and, of course, picking up girls. And it will all be accompanied by the best and worst of ’80s tunes, from the title song, Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” (1980), to a baseball practice set to Devo’s “Whip It” (1980).

The impeccable aesthetic of the film, courtesy of production designer Bruce Curtis, and the subtle ubiquity of nods and throwbacks to the era, transform the campus of the fictional Southeast Texas University into something of a fantasyland. It’s a land of ease where the fiercest conflict is a hotly contested ping-pong match between Jake and teammate McReynolds (an impressively mustached Tyler Hoechlin), where the team’s hazing rituals come off as benevolent and inclusive rather than cruel. A time when they can sig along to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979) with their lone black teammate, without a thought to what that means.

Linklater avoids this topic, and any other idea that threatens to become too serious, by undercutting it with humor or channeling it through the haze of stoned dorm room philosophy. Some films never bother to put forth an argument or make us think, and “Everybody Wants Some!!” is one of them. Linklater is content with “just getting in that groove”, as pothead pitcher Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) puts it. There is some philosophizing. Jake shares his insecurity with having his small pond of high school ball replaced with the ocean of college talent. And the players ponder pro careers and wonder, as they hop from disco club to country bar to punk rock show, whether they’re being true to their identities. But Linklater doesn’t explore or linger — we’re always off to the next beer, the next party, the next girl.

And that’s for the best. Any attempt at a message here would harsh our mellow. That’s not to say these are a bunch of dumb jocks. Linklater, himself a baseball player at Sam Houston State University, has assembled an endearing cast of characters, from fast-talking Finnegan (Glen Powell, stealing scenes left and right) to the short-fused Niles (Juston Street). Whether we’re laughing with or at them, their palpable camaraderie and sincerity is infectious. “This is the best day of my life…until tomorrow,” McReynolds says, realizing the second half of that sentence even as he utters it.

The only trouble is that while all these elements combine to make an enjoyable film, the experience is…pleasant. No more, no less. The film elicits smiles rather than laughs, and the romance between Jake and theater major Beverly (Zoey Deutch) is sweet and genuine, but bland. While the constant references to the era (an AMC Gremlin, Neil Young’s “Decade” (1977), Carl Sagan), may resonate with those who lived those years, there is a disconnect for younger viewers. That said, it would be unfair to fault Linklater or anyone involved. After all, you write what you know, and this is what Linklater knows better than anyone.

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