The powerful timing of Richard Linklater’s take on '80s competitiveness in Everybody Wants Some!!
Dazed and Confused is my all-time favorite movie. Period. Full Stop. It is the film most deeply embedded within my spirit. Therefore, I owe a debt to Richard Linklater. I am spiritually indebted to him, so when Everybody Wants Some!! was promoted as the “spiritual sequel” to the source of this cult classic, I spent a very long time thinking about what a spiritual sequel is. This phrase is proliferating wildly throughout discussions of the film, yet no one has attempted to define what constitutes a spiritual sequel other than to say they have seen Everybody Wants Some!! and they know an example of a spiritual sequel when they see one.
Linklater actually may have more spiritual sequels than any other writer-director around. He is preoccupied with the Heideggerian prospect of beings in time, of what time does to our nature as we move through it in an attempt to live. This is a profound ontological question, perhaps for some, the question. Linklater spent a decade working on one movie; Boyhood was an artifact of creative intelligence whose conception will prove to be a original moment in the history of cinema that cannot be replicated. He also spent twenty years working on a trilogy; Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight testify to the way collaborative partnerships ripen in their craft and challenge in their humanity if only they’re given enough time. Everybody Wants Some!! takes place in the fall of 1980 on the weekend before college starts, four years after the summer 1976 portrayed in Dazed and Confused on the Friday of the last day of middle and high school. The time frame is parallel or continuous in one way as it moves four years down the road, but then opposed or perpendicular in the sense that one keeps focus on the end of something while the other holds fast to some kind of future.
Much of Linklater’s work is cited as strongly autobiographical. It’s in the way he kept Austin truly weird in Slacker. It’s in the way he put his money where his mouth is in helping rebuild the real life of the subject of his film Bernie. It’s in the way he makes such consistently excellent soundtrack choices and the outright fun of doing School of Rock. It’s in the way he turns over the many-faceted questions of human memory and cognition in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. It’s in the celebration of camaraderie on baseball teams in Everybody Wants Some!! and Dazed and Confused. I attended Linklater’s panel on the film at South by Southwest, and for all the temptation he might’ve had to talk about the music in the movie, he instead most wanted to discuss how sports and filmmaking are parallel collaborative and comedic enterprises by telling a lot of personal anecdotes about when he played baseball for Sam Houston State University.
Major criterias for so-called spiritual sequels ought to be the way they carry forward this connectivity in characterization. All Linklater’s film fall in line with a certain personal brand that is Linklater, and Everybody Wants Some!! checks that box with ease. But it’s an open question as to whether the film reaches a similar connective strength in carrying forward those narratives that would be later faced by characters in Dazed and Confused. This update on their lives is tricky, because Everybody Wants Some!! gives us an entirely new cast of characters that does not overlap with the original characters. Any identification will be primarily a symbolic one, so this calls for a literary analysis of where there are overlapping characterizations in the two films.
The most fertile territory will, of course, be the McConaughey. Linklater discovered Matthew McConaughey in a hotel bar, cast him for a bit part, saw his potential and expanded the role of David Wooderson into what it ultimately became. Wooderson is a once proud and promising athlete now past his prime and stalled out as a hometown hero on Friday nights, the biggest fish in a pond that he’s having too much fun in to outgrow. By this definition and as a measure of high praise for the original, Linklater has actually doubled down on the McConaghey by giving this character to two people instead of one.
The Everybody Wants Some!! character of Willoughby seems older than the rest of his baseball team, a sage shrouded in a mysterious past whose ultimate fate is to be booted from the team for fabricating his enrollment paperwork somehow. Would Wooderson still be playing Peter Pan when he was already too old four years ago? For me, Willoughby ended up feeling more like the original character of Slater, a conspiratorial stoner holding forth at parties with freely-associative rants that sometimes make him seem sage and other time make him seem nuts. Slater’s unhappy ending is nothing more than losing the shotgun seat yet again, while Willoughby loses his seat in the dugout. I think there’s a stronger case to be made that Glen Powell’s character Finnegan is the real new McConaughey, already reflected by much of the critical reception of his performance as the film’s breakout star.
Finn is the elder of the group. He provides comedic monologs that are actually theme statements for the film, like Wooderson’s “L-I-V-I-N.” He provides some sense of order or decorum in the conduct of the group, showing them how to be cool and also somewhat dictating their schedule of hangouts. Finn determines and declares what constitutes fun for the evening, just as Wooderson announces the party is moving to the moon tower and that Aerosmith tickets are the top priority of the summer, displaying a radical willingness to try new adventures or experiment, such as when he leads the team to their first punk rock concert or pushes another character to let them all crash his love interest’s oddball theater troupe party. Compared to the other seniors on the team, he faces little chance of going pro after college, so he is also a somewhat washed up character like Wooderson.
The narrative center of Dazed and Confused is Wiley Wiggins’ character, Mitch. Mitch is now Jake, the equally uninitiated new kid just trying to fit in and understand his new situation, be it as a high school freshman or a college freshman. Mitch and Jake occasionally appear to be resourceful; Jake knows the punk house people or Mitch can get beers and they ultimately succeed in getting laid, facing the future with optimism and some measure of independence from the parents or friends that are influencing their lives.
Minor characters in the original also have some good follow through. Juston Street’s Niles is much like Adam Goldberg’s Mike Newhouse. They have grand visions of future success but function very awkwardly in the present, giving off radically nerdy loner vibes combined with a profound tendency to over-emote. They become angry at perceived slights, pick fights for no reason and lose them. Newhouse leaves the party after catching a beat down from Clint and Niles gets the team ejected from Sound Machine; even the disco setting of the original movie’s Emporium gets a parallel makeover for the sequel. We also have J. Quinton Johnson standing in for Jason O. Smith as the token black guy.
Then there’s the complicated case of McReynolds, played by Tyler Hoechlin. McReynolds is a cross between Ben Affleck’s O’Bannion and Jason London’s Pink. Like Pink, McReynolds is the presumed leader of the group, never challenged by his peers very openly, even when they disagree with his choices. They are considered to have a bright future, either leading the football team to state or going on to play pro baseball, but they feel a lot of quiet internal pressures. They both throw something when beaten; McReynolds throws a paddle at someone when he loses a game of ping pong and Pink throws the crumpled up honor code at his coach when faced with the ultimatum to sign or quit playing. Like O’Bannion, the other members of the group take delight in his misfortunes and sometimes barely tolerate his inclusion on the team when his blustery tendencies seem to go too far.
All of this speaks to a clear case for Everybody Wants Some!! as a spiritual sequel. The place where perhaps the case flounders is with female characters. In the new film, there is only one woman of any consequence whatsoever, Zoey Deutsch’s Beverly, the love interest and civilizing influence for Jake. Beverly has a good head on her cute shoulders, but who is she? Where is the equivalent of Parker Posey’s sadistic cheerleader, Darla Marks? Show me the catty Joey Lauren Adams, the sensible Michelle Burke, the hippie Milla Jovovitch, the silent Renee Zellwegger. At least show me the geeky Marissa Ribisi! Beverly might bear some resemblance to Cynthia Dunn, who managed to score a date to Aerosmith with Wooderson by the time to film is over.
This film suffers from an astounding lack of females with character or any sense of feminism. That’s not a criticism, exactly. I mean, this film is set in 1980. It’s raining women in this movie, but the team is just trying to make heads or tails of how to get some tail, so none of the female characters have an opportunity to rise up from their flatness and round out the message. So the resultant message is that Linklater finds 1980 to be a bit bleak. Forgive the pun, but it was a trumped up time. Jake wins his way into the heart and pants of Beverly, and then goes to his first college class where he promptly settles into a nap. Mission accomplished? We have a bright future of napping through college?
Dazed and Confused is about how to find your place on the totem pole of high school socialization and fit in somewhere. Everybody Wants Some!! is about life as a long series of competitions, the shadow of Reaganomics or capitalism or postmodernism or whatever your preferred signifier of evils. The films are similar in characterization and often in getting just right the vibe of the times, but ultimately opposite in the lesson. The original is not driven by such an existential crisis of purpose, compared to the cutthroat nature of the sequel. The importance of the team’s house has been subbed in for the importance of cars in the original film as the scene of freedom. A car is driven by one person; fraternal organizations are driven by the many. It’s a very different kind of freedom.
Still, if all the wanting and winning of Everybody Wants Some!! gets you down, you can turn to the soundtrack. When the boys aren’t getting so lucky, they jam extensively to The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” They party with Cheap Trick and The Cars. They’re hip to SOS Band and Stiff Little Fingers. The tough ladies are well represented here at least, with Blondie, Pat Benatar and Patti Smith. A little disco, a little Devo. And of course, Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”.
We should pause for a moment to reflect on the ironic fact that this song is from their 1980 album Women and Children First. The original film was named for a Led Zeppelin song, the seminal band of the times. Van Halen is the same way, except riddled with competition between lead singers, addled rather than bolstered by unchecked excess, and shot through with a sense that they never fully turned pro. Instead, Van Halen did stuff like pioneer contract riders to get a bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room with all the brown ones picked out of it for them. If you love Led Zeppelin, feeling that band morph into a band like Van Halen may leave you a little queasy.
In the film, there is a great scene at a punk house party where a band takes the stage and does their thing. It’s actually The Riverboat Gamblers having lovely, twisted fun on stage as they always do. Linklater stuck to his Texas roots there, with great results. Finnegan convinced the team to try out being punk rock for a night. He also convinced them in another scene to try out being country western. They got kicked out of trying to be disco. They had some success at trying to be theater geeks. They had a fair amount of success at trying to play baseball. College is certainly a mixed bag of ideologies. The 1980s were nevertheless a somewhat empty time.
I’m thinking about the every-other-decade theory posited by Marissa Ribisi’s character: “The fifties were boring. The sixties rocked. And the seventies—oh my God, they obviously suck. Come on! Maybe the eighties will be radical.” No, Cynthia Dunn, I’m sorry to report that the '80s were not radical. Ask Bret Easton Ellis. Yes, Everybody Wants Some!! is the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, and the resultant success of that endeavor might leave a bad taste in your mouth because the reality of the '80s bites. But my faith in the writing-direction of Richard Linklater remains unwavering. Rick, if you’re reading this, I want you to know: I will gladly wait patiently for another thirteen years to see what you’re going to do about the '90s, because that was an awesome time. How will your spirit animals face turning thirty and what do they think about Kurt Cobain?