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Remembrance of Innings Past: Revisiting ‘Everybody Wants Some!!,’ Richard Linklater’s 2016 Homage to Baseball, Teamwork, and Self-Actualization

Look, if there’s no actual baseball to watch, you could do a lot worse than the ‘Dazed and Confused’ director’s trip down memory lane 

Paramount/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

A hardbody sports car roars down a Texas highway, speeding along to the galvanizing sounds of liberating riff-rock. A sensitive if slightly callow jock surveys the scene around him and reacts with impeccable cool. Athletes and artist-types mingle in an idealized ecosystem of permissive cooperation, even while a repellant bully lurks. Beer-drenched tomfoolery and weed-addled philosophizing ensue. But we’re not talking about Richard Linklater’s Cooperstown-worthy 1993 classic Dazed and Confused. We’re here to talk about Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater’s unabashedly horny, open-hearted 2016 feature about teamwork, tail-chasing, and the enduring mysteries of the starting pitcher’s mind.

It doesn’t come up in conversations regarding Linklater’s most canonical films like Boyhood, Slacker, Waking Life, the Before trilogy, and of course the aforementioned Dazed and Confused, but Everybody Wants Some!! is maybe the director’s finest deep cut, a baseball movie about emerging self-awareness that doubles as a nostalgic homage to a period when being young was less fraught with complication (or at least perceived as such).

Linklater’s movies often seem to exist in their own time-space continuum and Everybody Wants Some!! is no different. The film takes place during a three-day period when its protagonist and Linklater stand-in Jake Bradford (prior to his filmmaking days, Linklater was a prized pitching recruit at Sam Houston State University) arrives at college, meets his teammates, parties hard, falls in love, and has his first team practice and his first day of class. The pace is languid and the tone wistful, even as the action is frequently antic. Like Yasujiro Ozu or Ingmar Bergman, Linklater possesses an intuitive understanding of time’s strange properties. All days are technically the same length, but life isn’t like that. Some seem to fly by in an instant, and some stretch out forever. Retrospectively, they are frequently transformed by the gentle distortions of memory or warped by the twinned elixirs of nostalgia and trauma. By the end of the picture’s two-hour run time, we understand what Jake cannot possibly grasp in the moment, that the entire template of his life has shifted permanently in 72 hours of seemingly prosaic activity. Linklater’s subtle build to this realization is another testimony to the patient genius of his vernacular. By eschewing the tendency of so many filmmakers to freight certain scenes with a veritable blinking billboard that reads THIS IS SIGNIFICANT, he replicates an authentic experience of life and growth more adroitly than all but a few of his contemporaries.

“Bullshit, You’re on the Team Now.”

Everybody Wants Some!! begins with Jake arriving at his new dwellings—a broken-down two-story colonial that serves as the baseball dorm—where he is confronted with enough baffling characters and indecipherable rituals to fall through his own personal looking glass. Depicted with an affable, empty-vessel vacancy by Glee alumnus Blake Jenner, Jake moves through the world with the unselfconscious swagger of the physically gifted and relentlessly handsome. Still, he is nonplussed by an encounter with team captain and All-American Glenn McReynolds, he of the exacting attitude and Keith Hernandez mustache, who informs him the two will never be friends, as the hitter/pitcher divide is inherently too wide a chasm to overcome socially.

Strange encounters ensue and escalate: A waterbed nearly crashes through the floor, his fellow pitchers are heroically stoned at 3 p.m., and his roommate is an abrasive cowpoke who talks endlessly to his girlfriend on the telephone wearing only underwear. Much of the comedy of Everybody Wants Some!! derives from the confident but green Jake becoming gradually more discombobulated as events unfold. In these opening moments, you sense he is puzzling over a possibility that had likely never occurred to him: Maybe these people genuinely don’t care for me? This turns out to be more or less a red herring: Among the central insights of Everybody Wants Some!! is the borderline cult-like fellowship common to high-level sports. Whether they like Jake is immaterial—he is of the brotherhood. Ten minutes into the film the gentle hazing is done. Jake tries begging off a senior-mandated drinking session at a local watering hole and is told “Bullshit, you’re on the team now!”

From the aspirational student group of School of Rock to the urgently organized freshmen pushback to cruel senior class behavior in Dazed & Confused, Linklater has long been fascinated by teamwork and its sundry dynamics. Everybody Wants Some!! is the director’s deepest dive into that topic, bringing together a ragtag group of individuals from different walks of life and embroidering them together in a less-than-seamless tapestry that hones their competitive edge to borderline lethal levels.

We ultimately know little of the individual backstories of most of Jake’s teammates, but enough to surmise that they represent a reasonably diverse cross section of temperaments and interests. What unites them is this: There is quite literally nothing they will not compete over. As the film unfolds, nearly every scene involves some manner of contest. Whether it’s playing ping-pong or picking up women or ripping bong hits, the unifying commonality is the neurotic impulse to turn every activity, no matter how inconsequential, into a matter of winning and losing.

Most people who have played team sports have encountered the sort of individual who is preternaturally driven to be the best. Sports documentaries typically lionize these tendencies in uncomplicated ways. In Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater hints at something different: the notion that competitiveness at this level is a quirk at best and a sort of madness at worst, a deeply compulsive behavior bordering on anti-social for those without these particular attributes. In this instance, being on the team is a little like being in the asylum. No sports movie has driven home this point quite so deliberately: It’s the jocks that are the freaks. “Bullshit, you’re on the team now!” is just a borderline strike call away from “One of us! One of us!”

“You’re Pissing in the Tall Grass With the Big-Dick Dogs Now!”

This all-for-one proposition is sternly tested by the presence of the beefy and belligerent college transfer Jay Niles, a pitcher with big league aspirations and a Jonathan Papelbon–meets–John Rocker Cro-Magnon nonpersonality that results in him starting a bar fight following his racist remark. His teammates rally to his side out of obligation, but upbraid him for his assholery before banishing him from the remainder of the evening’s revelry.

Niles is a hard-stop moron whose prodigious talent has the potential to abet the team’s championship aspirations. He needs to be brought to heel or gotten rid of entirely, a matter that is addressed in the team’s first practice when McReynolds humiliates him by hitting his best fastball 400 feet over the fence. That’s all Niles needs to see: He rages mightily at first, but ultimately genuflects to the man who physically bested him, allowing his only human-like moment onscreen: “Nice hit.”

In some ways Everybody Wants Some!! bears a resemblance to traditional military dramas that explore the tension between individualism and conformity, and the need to find a harmonious balance between the two in order for a group to function. There are portions of Everybody Wants Some!! that feel like Fred Zinnemann’s 1953 adaptation of From Here to Eternity, a hangout classic that features a handful of hard-drinking alpha males in various states of peril who typically take up for one another come hell or high water and occasionally play guitar.

The stakes may not be life and death, but the fault lines are functionally interchangeable: Those who are able to sublimate their impulses in the service of a group-driven goal will always have a place on the team, even if it might be low on the pecking order. Those unable to do so may not be around for long.

“I Was Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time.”

For Glenn McReynolds and Jay Niles, baseball is the end-all be-all. Success in any other endeavor is a foreign notion. But there are indications that Jake Bradford may not share this path. Linklater gestures at Jake’s subversive streak, which is presented as almost laughably basic at first glimpse, by panning to Jake’s record collection as he moves into town. We see that the first LP in his crate is Devo’s deeply outro 1978 classic Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and it causes the viewer to wonder where that record, of all things, fits into his worldview.

Later, upon encountering a former high school friend who has drifted into the punk-rock scene, he persuades a group of teammates to attend a raucous show by a Black Flag–style act that drives them into comically outsized paroxysms of excitement. Jake is a good kid and a good teammate. But like the NFL draft prospect who falls on certain teams’ boards because there is an indication he might be interested in something other than football, Jake’s restless curiosity may bode poorly for his future in athletics, if not in life.

Unlike most sports films, Everybody Wants Some!! never takes the convenient route of breaking down its characters into rote archetypes. Jake finds companions and mentors on the team, some of whom are clearly interested in nurturing his outside-the-box impulses. His fellow pitcher Willoughby, in a memorable performance by Wyatt Russell, encourages him to embrace his inner-weirdness. Willoughby is weird, too: He is unceremoniously tossed off the team when it is revealed he is actually 30 years old and posing as a college student. Jake will probably never see Willoughby again, but one senses that their short time together as guru and adherent will be one that resonates for a lifetime.

Linklater romantically but not unrealistically depicts 1980 as an unruly cultural moment, one replete with the promise of social mobility, in which the great Van Halen tune that gives the picture its name rests comfortably on a soundtrack alongside songs by Hot Chocolate, Steve Forbert, and Stiff Little Fingers. During what begins as one of the team’s girl-badgering crusades, Jake encounters an art student named Beverly (played by the excellent Zoey Deutch) and they fall almost instantaneously into a deep connection. However, his athletic prowess holds next to no interest for her—so what does she see in him?

This leads to the picture’s climax, when Jake’s teammates persuade him that he should (really must) invite them along to a fashion-forward party hosted by his new love interest. Most of Jake’s teammates are rendered genially baffled by the art-party spectacle, and it is hilarious to watch them attempt to navigate a context in which their physical gifts offer no overt social advantage (the jocks are the freaks). Not so with Jake—who gamely jumps into a weird, avant-garde skit that reimagines The Dating Game as populated by characters from Alice in Wonderland. He is through the looking glass for a second time in three days, but now we sense that only vestigial semblances of the surface-deep jock from the movie’s beginning remain. Jake spends the night with Beverly, and they discuss literature and art and only a little baseball. Their scenes together are like a version of Before Sunrise in miniature and remind us of Linklater’s special facility for rendering romantic love as pure revelation, and how the only route to the authentic self can sometimes run through a chance encounter.

The film’s poignant final sequence is one of the best in the Linklater oeuvre, and surely one of his most autobiographical. By the time Jake staggers into his first day of class, his exertions have rendered him so thoroughly exhausted that he lasts only a couple of seconds before laying his head on his desk and falling into a deep slumber. On the blackboard, the professor has written: Frontiers Are Where You Find Them. In a very real sense, Jake’s teammates have helped him find his true frontiers. But his frontiers, it transpires, might not have very much to do with the team at all.

Elizabeth Nelson is a Washington, D.C.–based journalist, television writer, and singer-songwriter in the garage-punk band the Paranoid Style.