At some point in 1995, Quentin Tarantino traveled to Amsterdam while developing his next project. His Pulp Fiction had been a massive hit the year before, and his work was now not only a critical darling but a pop phenomenon, all of which put a large amount of pressure on the writer-director for a worthy follow up. So, following his muse, he went to Amsterdam, the place where he had completed the Pulp script back in late ’92, hoping for repeat inspiration. Not finding it, he went to a video store and rented a copy of a film he’d already seen, one of the two films he had made sure to see theatrically while shooting Pulp: Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. As he said at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards in 2013, once the film played “all of the sudden I wasn’t lonely anymore. It’s a real hang out movie and you really get to know this community of people in the film. Those people have become my friends.”
Such is the subtle power of Richard Linklater’s work. The Texas-born and bred filmmaker makes what Tarantino would later dub “hangout movies,” stories that don’t necessarily follow an arc or a dramatic structure so much as they simply exist. They’re slices-of-life that float through the span of a few hours, days, or decades. His filmography isn’t entirely made up of such films (the paranoid drugginess of A Scanner Darkly and youthful joy of School of Rock being two particularly polar opposite examples), but the vast majority of his interest lies in the grounded, intricate relationships between people in (or moving through) a particular era. It’s a mixture that allows for indulgent nostalgia as well as immediate transportation, capturing a time and place so succinctly that you feel as intimately connected to his characters as they feel to each other. You’re present for small triumphs and quiet failures, for philosophical digressions and displays of wit, for soulful confessions and in-jokes. In a Linklater film, the audience is there to just be, and wherever you go, there you are.
Which is why, for me, his films are so hit and miss, because if you’re literally hanging out with a character or characters for two hours, it helps if you enjoy their company. His most recent film before this year, Boyhood, was a critical smash with a lot of Oscar buzz but it left me cold, the fascinating gimmick of shooting a movie over an extended period of “real time” not being enough to overcome the lead character’s woodenness. Similarly, his experimentation with a process of merging live action and animation in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly left me cold, unable to connect to the characters. On the flip side, I adored every minute of his Before trilogy of films, and wouldn’t mind if I spent the rest of my life with the characters of Jesse and Celine in those films. The films of his that I love have a warmth to them, an openness that allows you, the viewer, to become part of the ensemble.
I’m happy to say that his latest film, Everybody Wants Some!!, is Linklater’s warmest film to date. Not just in tone, although it has a spiritual warmth in abundance; Linklater and cinematographer Shane F. Kelly bathe the film in lush, late summer colors, so much so you can almost feel the cool September breeze in the theater. It’s a literal nostalgic haze, as the film perfectly captures the look, sound, and feel of the early 80’s (1980, to be precise), acting as a spiritual if not literal sequel to the 70’s set Dazed and Confused. Each music cue in the film acts as both emotional score and time machine, using the music of the time to reflect the emotions on screen as well as envelop you in the period.
If the look and sound of the world of the film is completely of its time, its story and characters are timeless. Audience surrogate Jake (Blake Jenner) is just arriving as a freshman at a nondescript Texas university as part of the school’s baseball team. One of the perks of being on the team is getting to live in a city-donated off campus house, in which most of the other teammates live and party. Along the way he makes new friends (and what could best be called “frenemies” in such a competitive house) as well as strikes up a connection with an arts major, Beverly (Zoey Deutch), who brings out in him more shadings than your stereotypical jock. If that plot line sounds slight, it’s purposefully so; everything that happens in the film feels authentically like a weekend hanging out with these characters. That’s not to say that they sit around and talk all the time, as these college kids are as rambunctious as any, and in their quest to get laid they attend a disco, a honky tonk, and a punk dive bar. With that journey, Linklater is taking us on a nostalgia tour of the 80s but also connecting us with our own personal histories of our school experiences. Imagine if Animal House or Neighbors took place in our reality instead of a heightened one. Shenanigans and wild parties occur, the baseball house ends up filled with people and detritus, and yet every event feels eminently tangible.
Ultimately, how you feel about Everybody Wants Some!! will come down to how much you enjoy the characters, as the film lives and dies on their strength. If you’re like me, you’ll see archetypes of those you lived and attended school with reflected in everyone on screen. You’ll see how deftly Linklater shades each character, never viewing any of them with rose colored glasses and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses without shouting them at the audience. You’ll see the wit and intelligence of each individual undercut by the pack mentality of not just sports culture but college culture and the arrogance of youth. You’ll see this and it will hopefully delight you as it did me, but your reaction is likely to be the way you might react to people and not fictional stereotypes. If you’re looking for a film with a lot of plot, look no further then Batman V Superman, a movie that’s practically all incident and nothing else. But if you want to meet some of the most charming characters on screen and bask in the hazy (yet not unclear) days of youth, I can’t recommend it enough. As the gentleman sitting behind me in the theater said as the credits rolled, “nothing happened in that movie. Boy, that was great.”
This article originally appeared on Pixcelation.com on Apr. 2nd, 2016.