Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Everybody wants some!!

In Richard Linklater's 2016, Everybody wants some!! nothing much seems to be going on.  You watch the film, an account of a freshman college student's first three days with his roommates at a school somewhere in Southeast Texas, with mild amusement but the whole enterprise seems a wee bit pointless.  Only later, on reflection, does the film's structure and content appear innovative, even radical.  On consideration, the film has a strange quality that is more than a little unnerving.

In setting, costume, and incidental detail, Everybody wants some!! is ostensibly realistic.  Every effort is made to duplicate the appearance of a Texas college town in 1980 -- haircuts, vehicles, tastes in music, clothing styles are all reliably reproduced.  The plot is bland and inconsequential to the point of vanishing -- the film's bland subject matter is exemplified in the generic title, possibly the worst name for a film made by a major director, in recent memory.  (No matter how hard you try, you can't keep the name of the movie in mind.)  The picture features a large cast of impeccably attractive and affable young actors -- since the protagonist has been recruited to play baseball, all of the boys in the movie are athletic and beautiful.  The movie is shot from the perspective of the freshman, using completely unobtrusive film grammar -- there are no memorable shots in the movie, very little intrusive editing (a montage showing the boy's first baseball practice is an exception), no visual arias or self-consciously pretty images; everything is direct, clear, even, self-evident.  The characters are without mystery or depth -- exactly what you would expect in a film about young college athletes.  There are no middle-aged adults, children, or elderly people in the film.  Everyone is between 18 and 24 -- one guy who turns out to be 30 looks like he is 19.  At the end of the film, we see a college professor but, only, briefly -- after their three days of strenuous drinking and partying, the two freshmen students fall asleep in their first class.  A baseball coach lectures the boys living together in the team's house on decorum, drinking, and relationships with girls -- everyone agrees with the coach's comments and, then, ignores his directives for the rest of the film.  The film resembles Animal House but without the conflict with authority figures and without the jokes.  The hero listens to "My Sharona" as he drives up to the sprawling old house where the baseball team lives.  He encounters some mild hazing when he meets the other boys who will be his roommates.  The kids go out to drink, meet girls at a disco called "Soundmachine" and, then, go line-dancing at country-music bar.  The next night, they have a party at their house.   They go to a bar to hear a punk band.  The hero pursues a girl who turns out to be sophomore studying Theater Arts.  The baseball players go to a party at the theatrically decorated house where the Theater Arts majors live and the hero stays up all night talking to the girl.  At dawn, they go swimming in the river and, perhaps, sleep together.  Then, the hero attends his first class -- the teacher writes these words on the blackboard:  Frontiers are what you make of them, possibly a comment on the fact the film's events are liminal, occurring n the frontier between the summer and the first day of college.  The hero and his buddy fall asleep and the movie ends.  The picture is casually vulgar and features endless drinking and pot-smoking with lots of sex between the compliant girls and the handsome young athletes.  There is literally no conflict.  No one gets sick or vomits after drinking; all of the girls are beautiful; the boys are all handsome and competent.  Although there is a Black kid on the team, there is no racism and no sense of racial difference.  The pretty girls all seem to want pretty much what the boys want -- that is, to hook-up for casual sex.  In its form, the film refers back to Linklater's famous Dazed and Confused -- but Everybody wants some!! lacks the melancholy sense in the earlier film that time is passing and that those who remain mired in High School are doomed, most probably, to lives of futility.  Clearly, the movie is not realistic -- the absence of ugly or, even, ordinary-looking people in the large cast signifies that we are well within someone's fantasy vision of an idyllic past.  (I assume the movie is autobiographical-- I think Linklater may have matriculated as a college baseball player).  A movie assumes a certain meaning based on the identity of its director:  if Dumb and Dumber were directed by Ingmar Bergman we would have a different reaction to the film than we might have otherwise -- we would be searching for evidence of Bergman's trademark ideas and obsessions in the picture.  So, similarly, we necessarily interpret a film based on our expectations as to the director's previous work and thematic concerns.  Everybody wants some!! is resolutely cheerful, optimistic, and free from conflict.  The film is a rarity -- a work of art that is completely lacking in drama or anything akin to drama.  Furthermore, the film presents an idyllic floating-world, a series of encounters that are seemingly weightless and without any consequence whatsoever.  In its way, the film's thematic material is as austere as that exploited by Bresson although in a different tenor -- there is nothing in the film to suggest any kind emotional conflict:  it is disconcertingly easy, stress-free, lacking even the slight but pronounced "dying fall' of melancholy that we perceive in Dazed and Confused.  So what are we to make of this peculiar film?  If it were directed by an unknown auteur, we would be tempted to consider the movie as a cynical attempt to cash in on the youth market, a genre film but without enough crassness or sex or cruelty to be particularly interesting.  But this movie is made by an important American director, the man who created the densely experimental and deeply problematic Boyhood as well as a host of other challenging films.  Ultimately, the viewer has the sense that the movie is all preliminary, some kind of scene-setting, for a conflict that may occupy a sequel film -- or, perhaps, a conflict that may never arise at all.

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