Monday, April 25, 2016

Animal House: EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!


Everybody Wants Some!! traps you in the company of a Texas college baseball team on the weekend before classes start for the fall 1980 semester and demands you be charmed by their antics. Luckily, this isn’t some cheap campus comedy with rowdy frat boys bonding while raucously drinking and smugly humping their way through anonymous crowds of young ladies. Or, rather, it’s not only that. It’s written and directed by Richard Linklater, who has become a reliable chronicler of a very particular slice of America – adrift youngsters (Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise), minimum wage workers (Fast Food Nation), underemployed daydream philosophizers (Slacker, Waking Life), aspiring artists (Me and Orson Welles), and oddball misfits (School of Rock, Bernie). Now he takes his shaggy low-key anthropological approach to a collegiate party atmosphere. It proves that if you put together a dumb bro-y college comedy with wit and intelligence it’s a lot more defensible than the usual lowbrow fare the subgenre encourages.

It begins with a freshman pitcher (Blake Jenner) showing up for move-in day at the team houses, ramshackle domiciles off campus donated to the athletic department to help alleviate overcrowding in the dorms. This leaves a baseball teams’ worth of guys bunking together, generating a locker-room competitive energy that never dissipates. He quickly discovers most interactions he has with his new friends will either be part of a game, an inside joke, or a hazing ritual. They’re always “on.” Linklater, never the most plot-based filmmaker around, is content to follow the fresh-faced young man through his weekend, acclimating to the surroundings while getting his bearings with a new group of boisterous guys who he’ll be rooming and playing ball with. We see parties, clubs, bars, and dorms where they’ll hunt for ladies to impress, and hopefully talk into following them back to the house where they’re willing to break coach’s rules against fraternizing upstairs behind closed doors.

Rather than engage with any serious drawbacks to such a lifestyle – in this film hazing is nothing you can’t shrug off, drinking isn’t a problem, and all the women are consenting – Linklater simply soaks the proceedings in a warm bath of nostalgia, through bright and clear simple images and wall-to-wall period music. Here’s an idealized throwback college lifestyle, where partying is consequence free and real life responsibilities only drift in from the sidelines with a distant looming that doesn’t feel too terribly relevant in the moment. That’s for later. College here is in a suspended animation before classes start, before any schedule and any work. It’s freedom to make your own fun as a crucible in which to discover who you really are. We follow the guys to a disco, a country bar, a punk show, a party for theater kids. They change their clothes to fit each occasion, and adapt their teasing patter to the context. Why not try on new aspects of identities? They’re still young.

Linklater brings his usual eye for environs -- it's a convincing 1980 college town atmosphere -- and social types, empathetically cataloguing a variety of guys in the group. There’s a confident competitor (Tyler Hoechlin), a chatterbox smart aleck (Glen Powell), a nice guy (J. Quinton Johnson), a clueless dope (Tanner Kalina), a dazed lunk (Temple Baker), an intense weirdo (Juston Street). In some ways they blur together, a sea of young, (mostly) white, athletic jocks. But there are clear differences among them as well, including the likes of a funny stoner philosophizer (Wyatt Russell) and a sweetly na├»ve country boy (Will Brittain). The movie’s about their homosocial bonding through loud, competitive, macho posturing (like when one guy picks up an ax like a bat and bets he can chop a pitched ball in two) and fleeting moments of surprising tenderness. They’re establishing pecking orders, creating hierarchies, and discovering who will lead and who will follow. Power shifts and friendships develop in loose hangout scenes with typical Linklater displays of relaxed, casual writing, sharp specificities and fine observation slipping by with how easily it flows.

An occasionally exhausting ramble floating from one vignette to another, Linklater is perhaps a bit too warmly indulgent in portraying their endless partying ways. But the longer the film spends seeing their single-minded pursuits of intoxication, objectification, and competition, it’s possible to see the limitations of such a lifestyle. The second half of the film invites in a welcome feminine presence as our lead strikes up a sweetly adorable budding relationship with a theater major (Zoey Deutch). It’s not like the hookups the others constantly pursue. In fact, he’s a little worried his new roommates’ embarrassing behaviors will ruin his chances with this nice young lady. If college is about finding out what kind of person one wants to be, here’s a movie following a young man’s initial encounters with a sampler of male behaviors. By the end, as he’s drawn out of their sweaty grasp and into flirtatious banter with a possible girlfriend, it’s obvious his learning process has only just begun. Classes are starting, and his whole life is ahead of him. Hopefully he’ll be awake for the frontiers he’s yet to discover.

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