How Richard Linklater’s ‘Everybody Wants Some’ Celebrates Bullying

Because I live in Austin, it’s hard to have perspective on a Richard Linklater movie. Linklater occupies a position in the cultural hierarchy here only slightly behind Willie Nelson. Every time he releases a film, it gets celebrated like a civic holiday. So when I say something like, “I enjoyed “Boyhood” pretty well but I thought it started to drag once the main character went through puberty,” people look at me like I’m criticizing their mother. And I might just be; it’s possible that their mother worked on “Boyhood.” Most people in town did, at one point or another.

So when I went to an early screening of Linklater’s new movie — a baseballish sex comedy called “Everybody Wants Some!!” — at the Austin Film Society, it was like an improv night with an audience made up entirely of other improvisers. The crowd roared from beginning to end like they were in a movie house watching a Depression-era slapstick; the guy next to me kept drumming his armrest to the tunes. Not only was Linklater on hand to talk after the film, but so was most of the cast, and a good part of the crew. When the moderator asked audience members to raise their hands to ask if they knew anyone who’d worked on the film, a lot of hands went up, mine included. My friend worked in the costume shop.

“Dazed and Confused,” my third favorite movie of all time and, according to Linklater, this movie’s “spiritual” forefather, is best enjoyed slightly altered, and I’d say the same about “Everybody Wants Some.” The movie passed by like college. It seemed as though everyone in the theater was either drunk, on their way to drunk, or, like me, stoned to the bejeezus. I couldn’t get enough of the costumes (great job, friend!), lots of polyester shirts and short shorts and cool, round sunglasses. The sets were spot-on. There were some nifty old cars, good dancing, and an enjoyable and diverse soundtrack. It all felt very 1980.

This movie really should be called “What’s Up, Man, I’m Jake,” because that’s seemingly every other line. The protagonist, pinch-hitting for a late-teen Linklater, has no flaws. He is intuitively brilliant and talented at everything he tries, including ping-pong. Not only does he get the girl, he does so without hesitation or much effort. His catch ends up being smart and cute and she likes to dress up in kinky Alice In Wonderland costumes while speaking in a cute British accent. She is a manic pixie dream flashback.

The male supporting cast, on the other hand, is all pretty much interchangeable: Guy Who Looks Like Paul Rudd, Mustache Guy, Other Mustache Guy, Tom Selleck Mustache Guy, Guy With Square Head, Token Black Guy, Weird Guy, Old Stoner Guy, Cowboy Guy and some other guys. Some of the guys seem like they might have interesting backstories, but those get dropped quickly in favor of letting us know, again, how awesome Jake is. Everybody gets drunk and laid and is great at baseball. The end.

But even though I enjoyed the movie on a superficial level, just like I enjoyed the box of Junior Mints I shoved down my gullet during its first 20 minutes, afterward I felt a little sick, like I’d just celebrated something unsavory, and not because of the candy. The early 80s, music aside, meant something very different to me than it did to the baseball bros who receive every single minute of screen time in “Everybody Wants Some!!” It was hard for me to cheer on the team in this movie. Through Linklater’s rose-colored nostalgia lens, they come off as sensitive boys with vaguely open minds, and hearts of gold. But they reminded me of my tormentors.

One early 80s day, in 7th grade, half a dozen jock-identifiers took me under the bleachers, pushed me around, and gave me a hard time for having been named Student Of The Month. When I told them to “f—k off,” their leader grabbed me in a headlock and pounded my face — with his arm in a cast — until I bled from both cheekbones. It was the worst beating I ever got. The shame and weakness I felt that day will always be with me. No one got punished. They were baseball players.

We all spend a lot of time making fun of “trigger warnings,” and with good reason. People are too sensitive. Yet “Everybody Wants Some” did trigger. It brought up horrible memories of getting bullied by jocks, Beta-Male trauma that I’ve spent a lifetime trying to process, with limited success. As the days went by, my initially pleasant feelings about this supposedly fun movie covering the first three days of college began to rot. Increasingly, it made me feel like garbage.

When it comes to the film’s overall reception, I appear to be mostly alone. The critical establishment seems to be suffering from a kind of collective Stockholm Syndrome, displaying an odd fixation on the team’s physical exploits. Put together, their reviews comprise an almost “Death In Venice”-level of erotic longing for that sweet bird of boyhood. According to Time, the movie “captures the essence of all sorts of youthful desires, both those that are easily identifiable and the more aching, unnameable kind.” Slate writes, “these are young men whose bodies yearn for activity at all hours, whether they are dancing, fighting, preening, or—in the movie’s best scene—slicing baseballs in half mid-air with a hatchet.” Tasty. But did the filmic redemption of jockhood, via the delivery system of Amazing Jake, really need to happen?

“Everybody Wants Some” hearkens back to a simpler time before political correctness clouded bro identity. It serves as extended cover for a lot of bad behaviors, skipping over the more unsavory aspects of jock life. Beating up Jews and Mexicans and gay people come to mind. Just ask the Duke Lacrosse Team what college was like. If you want to celebrate Richard Linklater’s experimental use of time in cinema, or his elegant and elaborate gift for the long tracking shot, go right ahead. The man is a genius, one of the great American directors. But content matters too, and if I praise the essential primitive nobility of this movie’s characters, I’m celebrating my oppressors.

It feels weird, even wrong, for not being hip with the jock revisionism. But I can’t be the only one for whom “Everybody Wants Some” brought up unpleasant 80s memories, right? This movie took me back under the bleachers, where the bros were just broing it up, having a good time at the top of the food chain. That wasn’t a place I needed to visit again. This movie is a bully, and the jocks are getting away with it. They always do.

Neal Pollack’s latest book is “Not Coming Soon to a Theater Near You.” Twitter, @nealpollack

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