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Linklater's new film reveals more of his Texistential universe

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So, what does the man who made an art film that forever changed the landscape of the medium make for an encore?

A raunchy college comedy, of course.

At first glance Richard Linklater's new film, “Everybody Wants Some!!” might come off as a cheeky follow-up up to his 2014 masterpiece “Boyhood,” but upon more careful review it appears the Texas-born auteur has simply reached for a smaller piece to the very large puzzle his films represent.

Linklater fans will recognize the new film as another slice of the irresistible American pie he’s baked deep in the heart of a mythical version of Texas. A universe born in 1991’s “Slacker” and raised through more than half a dozen films tethered by offbeat humor, existential anxiety, and an eclectic collection of characters bound by optimism and good intentions.

And the singularity creating this universe occurred in Texas. Linklater's “Bernie” includes a wonderful breakdown, with a color-coded map, of the regions of the Republic of Texas from which Linklater operates. In his seminal trilogy that began with 1991’s “Before Sunrise,” we learn the male lead Jesse “lived in Texas for a long time.” Of course we don't learn that until the second film, "Before Sunset" in 2004.

Linklater's universe lives through characters in transition, starting with “Slacker,” which depicts a day in the life in the Texistential capital, Austin. The film is a succession of transitions from one character to another leading to Austin’s highest point where it artfully flutters back down to earth.

Then in 1993, he chose another transitional day to document in Austin but went back to the last day of school in 1976 to do it. In “Dazed and Confused” he introduces us to alpha male in training Randall “Pink” Floyd and his eventual successor Mitch Kramer. While Pink is pondering whether football is worth signing away his independence, Mitch is making the leap from middle school to high school. They navigate the habitats of various teen species, which share more spiritually than they realize.

In 1997, he moved Eric Bogosian’s play “SubUrbia” from Massachusetts to Austin. Then in 1998, he shared a slice of Texas history with “The Newton Boys,” who choose a life of crime to find justice. 2001’s “Waking Life” is a lucid dream that floats around Austin “Slacker”-style, visiting various good-hearted weirdoes and would-be philosophers in rotoscope animation.

After a decade of exploring other settings, Linklater returned to Texas in 2011’s “Bernie,” the third piece of the “Before” trilogy, "Before Midnight," in 2013. In the fact-based “Bernie,” Jack Black’s title character transitions into wealth by dark circumstances to becomes a de facto philanthropist. Each entry in the “Before” trilogy drops its lead characters before the audience at a crucial transitional point.

In 2014, he revealed he’d never truly left his Texistential universe to make “School of Rock,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Fast Food Nation,” “Me and Orson Welles,” and “A Scanner Darkly.” That was the year he released his 12-year project, “Boyhood,” which revealed by far the biggest chunk of real estate in the Texistential universe yet and depicted in profound grandeur humankind’s gradual, painstaking, hope-fueling transition from childhood to adulthood.

Now Linklater returns to giving us a small slice of what amounts to his own autobiography portrayed through characters with different names who exist in different times, but whose hearts are in the same place.

“Boyhood” ended with Mason Jr. gazing into his future with the Chisos Basin as backdrop days before his first day of college, and “Everybody Wants Some!!” begins with a prospective college baseball pitcher named Jake rolling up to his new college, but that’s where the comparisons end.

“Everybody Wants Some!!” is karmically wedded to “Dazed and Confused.” Where that film was a 1970s zeitgeist-seeking nostalgia rocket populated by warm-souled characters with lecherous intentions named for a song by a seminal band (Led Zeppelin) of the decade it depicted. The new film is a 1980s zeitgeist-seeking nostalgia rocket populated by warm-souled characters with lecherous intentions named for a song by a seminal band (Van Halen) of the decade it depicted.

Linklater’s most ribald film to date, the new film sprays nostalgia bullets with help from a soundtrack that captures the transitional spirit of 1980 – from The Knack to The Cars with the Sugarhill Gang, Eddie Rabbitt, and Stiff Little Fingers in between.

While “Dazed and Confused” ends with its heroes headed for an Aerosmith concert in Houston in a Chevy SS 454, “Everybody Wants Some!!” opens with young Jake cutting through the Texas Hill Country on a lonesome highway in his muscle-bound Oldsmobile 442.

By Jake’s time behind the wheel in August 1980, Foghat’s “Slow Ride” is buried beneath a heap of melted disco records and rock radio has been released from the bondage of the disco era thanks to The Knack’s “My Sharona.”

In “Dazed and Confused,” Linklater’s community is a patchwork from various social groups who navigate tenuously in concentric circles, careful not to disrupt the prefab order of things. In “Everybody Wants Some!!” he focuses more on a group of harmless chauvinists in constant contest with one another. Whether it’s a showdown on the baseball field, a girl at the club or a game of Bloody Knuckles, Linklater’s boys relentlessly scratch and claw at each other for alpha dog status using whatever weapons are within reach.

But no characters win every confrontation, and Linklater best illustrates them in their defeats. Not only does Linklater make a loser of each of the main characters at some point in the film, but he wraps them in self-doubt. Each recognizes any confidence they might’ve developed in high school will not only be tested but ultimately shattered. True to life, none of the athletes depicted admit they fear that fate, but they ignore it with the same turn to instant gratification as characters from “Dazed and Confused.”

Proselytizing like they’re up on their Jean Paul-Sartres, these lovable louts chase sex, drugs and whatever music girls are willing to dance to in front of themselves to insulate themselves from the truth. They mock anyone who doesn’t follow suit. They bump lewd and lascivious behavior around like a volleyball and keep it alive with the same enthusiasm of a day at the lake.

As in “Dazed and Confused,” Linklater employs a cast of promising young actors with limited experience. Blake Jenner (“Glee”) plays Jake with aplomb and Zoey Deutch (daughter of “Pretty in Pink” director Howard Deutch and 80s star Lea Thompson) is a scene-stealer as Beverly. Glen Powell (“Scream Queens”), who plays Finnegan, does his best to channel Matthew McConaughy’s Wooderson.

Linklater's fascination with time and dreams is rich in each film. In the new film, he again shucks standard story structure to link together what could easily be the memories of a week in August, 1980, through each character knitted together for posterity by one. Linklater rejects standard sentiment for nuance. When Jake and Beverly part after their own "Before Sunset," Linklater frames to feel like the new couple is saying goodbye forever. In the context of the events on screen, they clearly will see each other again after class, but from Linklater's timeless throne atop the Chisos Mountains, Beverly represents the one who got away, He balances the giddiness of new love with a hint of the bittersweet recollection of lost love in a single cinematic flourish.

On its own, the film is an observation of the frightened American post-teen male in his natural chauvinistic, nihilistic habitat of frightened ignorance. It’ll likely be the springboard for some long acting careers as “Dazed and Confused” was for Ben Affleck, McConaughy, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Cole Hauser, and Joey Lauren Adams. It’ll probably be the impetus for some regrettable behavior on college campuses moving forward.

“Everybody Wants Some!!” is ultimately a raunch-comedy with a heart of gold that feeds us another slice of Linklater’s grand Texistential universe in progress.  A small slice for sure, but who’s going to quibble when all the pieces fit together to form a grand reflection of the way we lived, loved and laughed during our time in this universe?

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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›

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