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Nobody Wants Some

Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! assumes we'd all like to return to the days when the boys ruled campus.

Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s new movie title, has two exclamation points at the end that accurately reflect the Van Halen song it’s quoting. I resent them. If ever a film had no right to even a single exclamation point, it is this one.

The only exclamation-point-worthy aspect of Everybody Wants Some!! is that Linklater could raise ten million dollars to direct a long, dull, uncritical, droolingly nostalgic film about himself as a young jock and his young jock teammates who are all at college to play baseball and get laid.

The film’s not particularly funny — I counted a grand total of four mild chuckles in the theater where I watched it, and none of them came from me.

It’s got no gimmick to give it interest — there’s no Waking Life rotoscoping, for example, or twelve-year filming process that allows audiences the creepy thrill of watching performers age at a drastically escalated rate, as with Boyhood.

There’s nothing fresh or new here — just another unforgivably smug American movie about white, middle-class, hetero college dudes hanging around together saying random shit and trying to score with chicks.

Yet the critical acclaim rolls in.

The crisis-level ennui induced by watching Everybody Wants Some!! forced me to mentally review all the Linklater films I had ever seen, trying to assess whether he’d always been so bland, so mushy, so generic, so pointless.

Maybe the listlessness of his work had been camouflaged by its emergence as part of the independent film movement. Exciting in the early days because it gave opportunities to dazzling talents like David Lynch, the Coen brothers, and Todd Solandz, it ultimately provided cover for a legion of bores making hundreds of interminable, supposedly “personal,” but often interchangeable, coming-of-age films.

Everybody Wants Some!! is one such film, but Linklater treats his autobiographical going-to-college film as if it were revelatory. New Yorker critic Anthony Lane agrees, describing the opening scene as if it’s a model for future generations of filmmakers:

If you can’t think of a good way to kick off your movie, how about this? Take a handsome young buck, put him at the wheel of an Oldsmobile coupe, and have him whip along a Texas highway to the sound of “My Sharona,” by the Knack . . .

[I]t’s hard to think of a brighter start. The buck in question is Jake (Blake Jenner), and by the end of the song we’ve already grasped the unfolding shape of his life.

He glides past groups of girls his age and parks in front of a house on a pleasant street. He has a shy smile and a box of LPs in his arms. Sunlight pours down like a benediction. He’s ready for anything.

One of many differences between Anthony Lane and me is that I don’t think that’s a good way to kick off a movie.

You want to know a good way to start a movie set in Texas that involves a guy, a car, and a song? Try Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind. The tortured, alcoholic, impotent son of an oil baron races to the family mansion, intent on the vengeful murder of his working-class best friend.

Sirk cuts between his careening drive and his anxious family, who react in strained close-ups to the dreaded sound of the car roaring up. The surreally soft and dreamy strains of the Four Aces, singing the title song, plays on the soundtrack.

Now that’s an opening.

Linklater’s opening sequence has no tension, no atmosphere, no characters you could possibly give a damn about. It announces at the start how empty the film will be. You will sit for two hours waiting for something, anything, to occur to cast a  bit of shade on Jake’s sunny existence. But nothing does.

Filmmaker’s Delight

For Linklater, every tedious moment in his film is precious. In an NPR review, he discusses a scene set in 1980s Texas in which the guys sing along to “Rapper’s Delight”:

That was a note in post-production, “You know, that scene could be shorter.” Like, yeeeah, but I really want the three main guys, they’re the upperclassmen in the car, I don’t want to leave them out. They’re passing the mic — that’s what you did back then, if the song’s going on. I was in that back seat — like I said, this is autobiographical. I remember guys singing along to “Rapper’s Delight,” and I just thought that was funny. But it sets the tone for the movie.

Like, you’re just hanging out with these guys. If you’re bored, or waiting to get to the next thing, maybe this isn’t your movie. But if you really like the energy and the humor and these guys’ personalities, being invited into this kinda crazy world, then it’s all fun.

I was bored and waiting to get on to the next thing, not only because this wasn’t my movie but also because the world Linklater invited me into was not particularly crazy or fun. Obtuse American jocks partying for three days before the semester starts ain’t the most gripping subject in the world to begin with.

Once you add in Linklater’s pathetic nostalgia for every keg-stand, every lame come-on to a completely generic “college girl,” every pseudo-philosophical dipshit conversation between bong hits, you have a cure for insomnia in film form.

Peak Nostalgia

Linklater seemingly filtered the “autobiographical” events in the movie through other films and TV shows set in high school or college or somewhere in the generally feckless world of twentieth and twenty-first-century American middle-class white-male youth.

We’ve frequently seen the epic house party that ends with passed out lads in unlikely places and underwear hanging from the trees. We’ve yawned through the lead guy’s tentative courtship of the supposedly “special girl” he really, really likes.

We’ve even watched a far superior version of the “Rapper’s Delight” scene, the truly delightful “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along in Wayne’s World.

But if Linklater’s making a meta statement about the mediated reality of American youth seeking “authentic” experience that takes the form of unconscious borrowings from existing pop culture narratives, I didn’t recognize it.

Film scholar Mary Harrod swears that Linklater’s work is defined by pastiche, the “imitation of an existing text or hodgepodge of different elements” from many texts. 1993’s Dazed and Confused, for example, functions in self-conscious relationship to George Lucas’s 1973 film American Graffiti.

Both American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused deal with American teenagers on the verge of graduating from high school; both take place on the long night after the last day of school; both feature an older “outsider” figure (played by Harrison Ford in Graffiti and Matthew McConaughey in Dazed) who prolongs the high school experience by hanging around with the teenagers; and both have a sentimental retro appeal thanks to lovingly recreated hairstyles, clothing, cars, typical teen hangouts, and “oldies” soundtracks.

Fredric Jameson identifies American Graffiti as the ultimate “nostalgia film,” made to help a postmodern population avoid grappling with its own place in history.

In contrast, Harrod argues that Dazed and Confused deliberately evokes “the inescapable legacy of the past” partly through recognizable “character types” to create “representations of youth across generations that enter into dialogue with one another in a hall-of-mirrors effect.”

Linklater calls Everybody Wants Some!! “the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused,” but it’s hard to see it that way. Harrod points to Dazed’s “refusal to idealize 1970s adolescence,” and the dark edge of angst that gives the film its impact. Everybody Wants Some!! is relentlessly complacent and uncomplicated. As Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post puts it in her gushingly favorable review,

In Linklater’s idealized world, AIDS hasn’t yet arrived on the scene, and homicidal hazing practices and campus sexual assault are dim notions, at best. No one gets hurt in Everybody Wants Some!!, in which Jake and his buddies engage in time-honored competitions to establish status, then circle back for some strutting, old-fashioned tush-slapping.

The film gives its audiences a no-problem fantasy guy-world that, in 2016, is a little shocking to watch. Are we still fine with valorizations of the triumphal march of old-fashioned Big Men on Campus? If so, why?

Chekhov’s Waterbed

Linklater sets up potential consequences for his characters’ bone-headed actions over and over, then lets them all dissipate into grins and further good times.

In an early scene, one of the jocks installs a louche waterbed too heavy for the upstairs floor. As plaster starts falling from the ceiling below, the guys predict that the bed’s going to come right through — which, of course, they think would be cool. But it never does. This forced set-up and absent payoff is the essential narrative structure of Everybody Wants Some!!: nothing splashy ever happens.

There’s a lot of prosaic male competitiveness and egotistical jockeying, but no fights go beyond slight shoves, and they are quickly forgotten in moments of generous male bonding.

One black player lives among all the white players in what looks to be an all-white Texas community. But there isn’t a single moment of racial tension in the whole film.

The jocks crash nightclubs and parties where other “types” belong, but no one objects to their slumming at a punk rock club, a country-Western bar, or a theater department party. They fit in everywhere; everybody likes them.

Judging by this film, things must have been really different in Texas in 1980 than they were anywhere else in the known universe.

I realize that this lack of dramatic events is “a feature, not a glitch.” Comfortable people believe that real life is like that, just a stream of stuff happening that takes no form at all unless phony fiction-makers trump up impassioned conflicts and impose meaningful consequences to actions.

I don’t know what reality those people are living in. If your life is somehow, by some miracle, so blessedly placid, so cushiony soft and streamy, just look around. You’re surrounded by anguish, by conflict, by tragedy, by villainy, by huge consequences for actions, by the stuff of drama, every day.

Rebellion By Another Name

Anyone wrestling with their basic dislike of Richard Linklater, though, must come to terms with the fact that he directed School of Rock. It’s such an invigorating film, so full of cleansing passion and hilarity, with no long, static, boring parts. Plus it’s got a delightful use of the distinctive performance skills of Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Sarah Silverman, Mike White, and all those endearing musically gifted kids. You might find yourself checking IMDb again, just to make sure Linklater’s name is attached to it.

When you’re on IMDb, you see in Linklater’s bio that his career reflects his dedication to filming “the youth rebellion continuum” of his mid-seventies generation and beyond.

Linklater’s “youth rebellion continuum” requires a new definition of the word “rebellion” because it made no noise and left no mark, except on consumer culture.

It was the ignoble aftermath of the New Left’s militant counterculture, when America’s youth sank into disillusionment, rejected political activism, and other than the brief interlude of punk rock fury, sat by and ignored the complete takeover of American society by Reaganite sharks and their liberal enablers.

Ignored it, then came of age and joined it.

It was the youth rebellion not worthy of the name “rebellion.” I know because I was there. I partook of those wasted, shameful, disgusting years, when “rebellion” consisted of hangin’ out and sayin’ stuff.

Why would anyone would want to watch movies about American youth at its rock-bottom worst, focusing on our vapid “generational rites and mores with rare compassion and understanding,” as the IMDb entry puts it?

By the end of Everybody Wants Some!!, I realized that my all-consuming hatred for mumblecore films started when I watched Linklater’s SubUrbia back in 1996.

Those hapless young middle-to-upper-class ensembles treated as precious for their lack of strong ideas, ambitions, commitments, or emotions, exhibiting the same kind of standing-around-blathering behaviors treated as profound and important.

Linklater’s an acknowledged influence on mumblecore filmmakers, whose work is sometimes called “Slackervettes,” paying equal tribute to the granddaddy of the independent film movement, John Cassavettes, and Linklater’s breakout film Slacker.

I would’ve remembered Linklater’s proto-mumblecore status earlier, only I generally can’t sustain thoughts about Linklater’s work. I only retain a general sense of having periodically wasted hours of my life that I’m never getting back.