Writer-director Richard Linklater has described his latest film, “Everybody Wants Some!!,” as a “spiritual sequel” to 1993’s “Dazed and Confused.” That made my heart fibrillate a little, and maybe yours too. Beginning with its shot of a Pontiac GTO pulling doughnuts in a high school parking lot to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” “Dazed” is such a humane approximation of what it was like to come of age in the mid-1970s that one wishes it would never end. On the evidence of “Boyhood” and the “Before Sunrise” trilogy, though, Linklater doesn’t want any of his movies to end. Thus “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Which at first is different, sometimes jarringly so, before wading into the open-armed embrace of experience that marks this filmmaker’s finest work. The tipoffs are those double exclamation points and an onscreen title font that recalls a Skinemax late-night movie circa 1981. What if you took one of that era’s hormone-drenched stu-coms and put real people in it?
The year is 1980, actually, and Jake (Blake Jenner from “Glee”) is arriving for his freshman year at (the fictional) Southeastern Texas State University. A high school pitching star and rangy college prospect, he’s assigned an off-campus baseball dorm with the other players. It’s a ready-made animal house, with rules laid down by a briefly seen coach (Jonathan Breck) that are immediately ignored. Occasionally we’ll get an onscreen reminder of how many dwindling days and hours remain before classes begin. These, too, are ignored.
Instead, Linklater parks his cameras to observe, with indulgence and much good humor, the bonding rituals of young men who only think they have it figured out. Jake’s housemates fall into general categories that re-sort themselves into individual personalities: The motor-mouthed ladies’ man Finnegan (Glen Powell), the Zen surfer-stoner Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), uber-competitive McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), country rube Billy (Will Brittain), smartass Nesbit (Austin Amelio), naïve Brumley (Tanner Kalina). And so on.
A few stand slightly outside the pack: the over-confident psycho-nerd pitcher Jay Niles (Juston Street, freakily funny) and the laconic second base star Dale Douglas (J. Quinton Johnson), whose blackness is rarely commented on. Where are the women? There to be chased and partied with and seduced. “This is college, Jake,” the hero is told early on. “The girls can be as big sluts as the guys.”
Oh, dear. Is “Everybody Wants Some!!” what happens when you people an entire Richard Linklater movie with Matthew McConaughey’s horndog Wooderson from “Dazed and Confused”? Yes and no, or, rather, yes, but only at first. As the boys sprawl through the last days of summer, the swagger that borders on smug begins to mellow and melt away. Searching for good times and girls, they hop from a disco one night to a country and western bar the next to a punk mosh pit to an art-student costume party, minds open, adapting, ever-changing. After a while, the hero starts having a smallish identity crisis, confessing that “it sort of begs the question of who we are.”
Well, yes. This is college, Jake. Even a high school sports star can be anyone he wants.
The movie eventually spins him off from the crowd into the arms of Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a tartly ardent stage arts freshman with Joni Mitchell posters on her wall. She’s unpretentious for a theater brat, he’s smart and soulful for a jock, and the two stand dazzled in the Venn diagram overlap of their attraction. These scenes try a little too hard to be charming but they are anyway, and if Deutch has the freckles and immediacy of a classic Brat Pack heroine, it may be because her mother is Lea Thompson of “Back to the Future” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” and her father is Howard Deutch, who directed the latter.
More second-generation pleasures: Wyatt Russell, who plays the woolly baseball mystic Willoughby, is the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and he has a high old time — emphasis on high — explaining to his teammates why “Fearless,” from the 1971 album “Meddle,” is the best track that Pink Floyd ever recorded. Because he is correct, I am awarding “Everybody Wants Some!!” an extra half-star.
Linklater was a high school baseball player who went to Sam Houston State on a scholarship, and the movie is steeped in the lazy, rivalrous minutiae of college ball. Willoughby gets off a moment of bliss when he muses on the pleasures of pitching — “It’s lovely out there on the bump,” he says — and we learn that it’s the .230 hitters who are always the most superstitious. Also that it’s possible to slice a pitched baseball in half with an ax. At one point, one of the characters gazes with incredulity at a crowd of fellow students and says, “I know what we’re doing here. We’re playing baseball. What are they doing here?”
“Everybody Wants Some!!” is a nice long soak in the Proustian detritus of its era. Beverly drives a Gremlin, Jake knows the secret of winning at “Space Invaders,” and people can still confidently begin sentences with the words, “It’s like Carl Sagan says. . .” What “Sweet Emotion” was to “Dazed and Confused,” so the Knack’s “My Sharona” is to this movie, and the soundtrack rolls forward from there: glorious junk from the days when Eddie Rabbitt, Eddie Money, Sniff ’n’ the Tears, and the BusBoys meant something.
All that’s missing is a plot. But Linklater doesn’t do plot; he does life. Says Powell’s garrulous Finnegan, summing up the art of both this movie and this moviemaker, “I don’t think at all. I just talk a lot. It’s jazz improv. You’re invited.” And so are we.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Written and directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Tyler Hoechlin, Juston Street. At Boston Common, Kendall Square. 117 minutes. R (boys being boys: language throughout, sexual content, drug use, some nudity, some baseball).Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.