Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2016 8:24 pm 
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No, everybody really doesn't

It's easy to see Linklater's many accomplishments in this for him nostalgic movie. (He was a baseball player at a small Texas college like the main characters and at this time, the start of the Eighties.) His notation of clothing, cars, music, drinks drugs, sexual mores and levels of unsophistication is rich and precise. So is his sense of the interplay among the members of a college sports team. And while he has chosen not to have a plot, only a timeline countdown to the first day of school, he is, throughout, successfully wrangling a large number of characters, whose attractive butts (in their own view), whiskers, and jockiness make them hard to distinguish, though Linklater manages to distinguish them, at least to the satisfaction of many viewers and doubtless to himself. While I was expecting to hate this movie for its bland celebration of heterosexuality and clueless testosterone, in the event I found it too good-natured and full of busy incident (and occasionally amusing dialogue) to dislike.

But what I could not do is either to believe, or as a whole, to admire this film, or understand why it has gotten such a high critical rating from American reviewers. I'm waiting to see what the French say when it comes out in Paris in another ten days. If they like it I'll have to concede I've been blinded by jealousy (I secretly always wanted to be a jock, or just to have one). But for the moment, I'll have to stick by my conclusion that Linklater is simply riding on the adoration he got from his remarkable (if also rather overrated) Boyhood, and the fact that his contemporaries like to reimagine their youth as he does, as a moment of perfection and happiness, while some admirers who have no notion of this time and place uncritically accept this version of it.

But they ought to realize that some things, despite the detailed period references (though a lot is left out), are wildly off: most blatantly, the fact that all the actors playing these young guys are much too old, and probably, even for a college baseball team, too big. They are nearly all in their twenties, and several are nearly thirty. Actors aren't always exactly the age of the characters they play, and can get away with it. But when all of them are significantly older, it won't work. The differences in look and development between an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old are large; a 27-year-old is simply off the charts.

This movie is of course a touchingly unguarded example of blatant euphoric recall. These jock-fratboy types and the three-day action prior to the start of college are so much larger than life that they amount to pure fantasy. Of course that is an age-old thing for a coming-of-age memoir, and forgivable. It's just a little harder to forgive when the stuff being recalled seems so fundamentally uninteresting. There are only two moments when the action opens up and we're allowed to escape from the dim world of competitive young jocks. This is when the main character, Jake (the goofy dreamboat, Blake Jenner) runs into Justin (Michael Monsour), a punk, imperfect pal he knows from high school sports, also a student, but not on the team, and Justin invites the guys to a neo-punk concert that evening. It's heartening that Jake is really friends with somebody scruffy and not that athletic. The second time is when he gets together with Beverly (Zoey Deutch), the girl he meets and falls for on arrival. She's more than a relief from the stultifying testosterone. She's adorable, and also smart and talented. Life in Linklater college-land seems bearable, for these two moments. But that's not enough. Those two characters needed more screen time.

As I watched, I felt as if I'd picked up a videotape from the Eighties, or, more likely, since I'd be unlikely to have rented a movie about college boys getting ready for the first day of class, as if I'd flipped the TV dial one night in the Eighties or Nineties and came upon a middlebrow youth comedy. (Of course a conventional movie of that sort would have a plot, though.) So the question again arises, why are we watching this stuff, and why have the critics (except for Rex Reed in the Observer) written raves about it? The answer must be because Richard Linklater has achieved some kind of unique privileged status among American directors now, and this superannuated throwback to Dazed and Confused (its "spiritual sequel" did he say?) is what he felt like giving us. Anthony Lane (whose celebration surprises me) is probably right to compare the way Linklater introduces characters and situations and "lets them slide" to what the Coens do in their recent enormously accomplished yet throwaway movie Hail, Caesar.

But lavishing praise on Linklater's movie suggests that perhaps all along what has appealed to critics in Linklater is his mediocrity. His "Before" trilogy, starring the appealingly bland Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, with these films' wispy nod to European cinema, like his Boyhood, whose main challenge to actors and crew was just to show up and do some shooting every year for a decade, succeed so well because they're fundamentally unambitious. And that's okay too. Some artists, including some great ones, are of the kind who should not push too hard. But the results are always going to be limited, and the accolades should be held in check.

Everybody Wants Some!!, 117 mins., (the title from a Van Helen song), debuted at SXSW March 2016; limited US release 30 Mar. 2016, Canada 1 Apr.; wide US release 8 April, other countries the rest of Apr., Ma, and Jun.

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