Everybody Wants Some!! ★★★

[6]

I have expressed before that I don't quite see the charm in Richard Linklater's genial dudishness, particularly when it's coupled with period nostalgia like it is here and in Dazed & Confused and, to some extent, Boyhood. It's a completely personal thing. I grew up in Houston and had circumstances very similar to Linklater's, in the macho proving ground of 70s Texas. Where he found relief and camaraderie in drugs and baseball, I was hiding in my room listening to The Smiths, The Fall, and The Communards, working on my paintings and trying to figure out why I didn't necessarily mind being "friend-zoned" and talking with girls for hours was just as exciting as kissing them. I wasn't a Linklater Guy; I was . . . something else.

Now, there's no reason why cinema should reflect our own experiences, and I would argue that it's most interesting when it doesn't - Roger Ebert's "empathy machine" thesis, wherein someone shapes a world for us to move around in, all the better to see with radically different eyes. I think it's true, however, that when art seems to touch very heavily upon our own experiences, we can be a bit unforgiving with respect to those smaller spots where it diverges from them. It's like fighting over a minor detail of religious doctrine, eventually labelling your opponent a heretic. Relatively insignificant differences are magnified, and that can obscure all the things that an artist gets right.

I think that I had my most extreme anti-Linklater reaction to Everybody Wants Some!! in part because it seems to me like a film that showcases this auteur and his métier in the most distilled, crystalline form. There is barely any story, apart from a (ultimately meaningless) countdown clock, from arrival at Southeast Texas University to the start of classes. Really, this is a hanging-out, fucking-around film, with a ragtag group of guys all bouncing their characters off each other in circumscribed scenarios and locales: the baseball diamond, but also the kegger, the disco, the country and western club, etc. It's practically a mathematical formula for "fun."

But as I got some distance, I realized that my dis-identification with this world, along with my unavoidable jerking-knee politics when confronted with these guys onscreen ("Hey look! The white male power base at play!"), was really missing the point. Not "beside the point," because politics and demographics matter. But I started to recognize that, with EWS!!, Linklater is actually performing his own brand of critical race work.

It's not just that the baseball team has a black member (J. Quinton Johnson) whose race is virtually unremarked-upon, or that the Latino bartender at the disco (Justin Alexio) is hassled by the single most obnoxious guy on the team (Juston Street). It's that Linklater has constructed these guys as so aggressively goofy, in many cases so sheltered and ill-prepared for social engagement, and so utterly juvenile in their bearing. They are whiteness, not as a threat but as a protected class, a group that doesn't quite understand certain things because they don't need to. White Texans can be nice enough, but they have the luxury of maintaining a very narrow comfort zone.

Linklater displays this whiteness by creating a team and a group of buds who are liberal, by and large, and so are more willing than most to put themselves into situations where they don't necessarily fit in, like the punk club or, to an extent, the disco. Most are go-with-the-flow guys, but new guy / interlocutor Jake (Blake Jenner) and self-styled intellectual Finn (Glenn Powell) are the most open to new things. Linklater is showing us the best possible face of the Texas jock.

But there is a racial component here that is quite deliberate and, upon further consideration, very clever. In Texas, whiteness is so outsized and garish - the cowboy hats, the big hair, the stupid dually trucks. But within this space it is treated as the default, the invisible. Without casting blame or setting up undue conflict, Linklater has made a film that has so little else at work apart from its character interactions that it actually achieves something very worthwhile. It makes whiteness strange.