Ever since I graduated from college almost 20 years ago, I’ve tended to avoid my alma mater’s campus, even though I still live in the same city. I enjoyed college quite a lot, so it’s not like seeing the university brings back bad memories. No, what makes visiting my old school so bittersweet is seeing the students. A friend I graduated with calls it The Bubble: College students have a look in their eye that makes it seem as if they’re encased in a protective bubble that shields them from the anxieties of adult life. I notice it every time I’m back on campus, and I envy their blithe disregard for the possible concerns of what the future holds. The Bubble keeps them glued to the present moment, enjoying their first freedom after living their whole lives under their parents’ roof. Tomorrow is some amorphous time period that has nothing to do with them—everything for them is Right Now. 

Very few movies so acutely capture that sense of The Bubble as Everybody Wants Some!!, which is written and directed by Richard Linklater, a filmmaker attuned to the power of the present even when he sets his movies in the past. As with his Before trilogy and Boyhood, Everybody is magnificently locked in to its characters’ everyday preoccupations, while still possessing just enough perspective to see those seemingly ordinary moments from a vantage point that makes them feel larger, more universal and, above all, reflective of something deeply true about being alive. Everybody feels like it was dashed off, improvised on the fly, but as is often the case with Linklater’s laid-back films, it is too rich and emotionally sophisticated not to have been carefully constructed. Because Everybody gives off an air of effortlessness—a gentle no-big-deal shrug—fans will run the risk of overselling it to their friends, who will wonder what the big deal is. After all, it’s just a movie about some horny college baseball players looking to get laid, right? Yes—but, more profoundly, no.

Billed as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused—though you don’t need to remember that movie to love this one—Everybody is an ensemble piece that takes place in the late summer of 1980, during the three days before fall semester starts at Southwest Texas. The main characters are members of the school’s elite baseball team, most of whom live in a house together off-campus. One of the freshmen is Jake (Blake Jenner), a handsome, amiable pitcher who slowly hits it off with upperclassmen like McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), a pro prospect, and Finnegan (Glen Powell), who enjoys lording his sexual confidence over his younger, impressionable teammates. 

Describing Everybody’s story will only make the film seem simplistic and sophomoric. With the baseball season not getting underway until second semester, the guys will just be practicing against one another for the time being—that is, when they’re not busy going out partying. If Dazed and Confused was lit up by its mid-1970s classic-rock soundtrack, Everybody recaptures a later era in which corporate rock was giving way to the exciting, diverse new sounds of punk, disco, even hip-hop. It’s fair to nitpick the movie’s idealized vision of college life—there’s no racial tension or homophobia, and the town has a perfect replica of every imaginable kind of dance club and bar—but that doesn’t matter much when you realize that Linklater’s romantic view is, ultimately, a bit of a feint.

Ostensibly a hangout movie akin to the kind Robert Altman used to make, Everybody follows Jake and the rest of the team as they try to pick up women, drink beer, talk about women, play cards, listen to records, think about women, and smoke pot. Nobody’s looking for love, and the characters’ frank disregard for any serious romantic attachment can initially seem off-putting, creating the impression that they’re just lunkhead jerks. But what’s so remarkable about Everybody is that, while Linklater and his actors eventually reveal the ballplayers’ depth, they never actually stop being jocks: slightly dopey, hopelessly immature, clinging to the belief that their physical prowess can translate into all other aspects of life. The movie sees their limitations clearly, and yet Everybody still has enough compassion to shake its head in disbelieving affection at these dudes, who may objectify women but more often than not get shot down, always too well-meaning and fun-loving to fully understand their own sexism.

This is tricky terrain, and at first Everybody risks being little more than a knowing, more artistic riff on the brain-dead sex comedies that dotted the ‘80s landscape. But it soon becomes apparent that Linklater is after something deeper, allowing these players’ individual personalities to emerge. The blowhard, flame-throwing pitcher (Juston Street) starts off as a trash-talking weirdo, then reveals himself to be something different and sweeter by film’s end. The philosophizing, Pink Floyd-worshiping stoner (Wyatt Russell) is hiding a secret. As for Jake, he’s an ostensibly unexceptional teen who starts off shy but slowly comes into his own, eventually drifting toward a cute girl (Zoey Deutch) he can’t get out of his mind. But there are no major revelations, no sudden character shifts. It’s a gradual process, and yet we notice, just as we observed the young man in Boyhood grow and change from year to year—imperceptibly but crucially.  

How does Linklater do this, spinning something out of nothing? The secret seems to be his sense of generosity. Everybody’s players may be horn-dogs, but they’re not assholes, and they’re so game for whatever comes their way that they never judge anyone. Pretentious theater students, shit-kicking honky-tonkers, the burnouts and the punk-rockers: They’re all just part of the college experience for Jake and his crew, and their enthusiasm for fun—no matter how they get it—soon proves infectious.

In Altman’s best hangout movies—California Split, say—we didn’t much care what was happening as long as we were tagging along with the main characters. Everybody operates in much the same way, letting these lovable guys be our guide. This is a movie of pure pleasure, and Linklater rewards our patience by justifying his affection for these characters, who all prove funnier and more thoughtful than we could have first realized. There’s a lesson there in not making judgments about people we’ve just met, and in one of the film’s sly twists, it turns out that the ballplayers are actually more open-minded than we were about them initially.

But that pure pleasure contains just the tiniest bit of melancholy around the edges—so faint, in fact, that the main characters only seem vaguely aware of it. Underneath the keggers and the hookups, Everybody proves to be a rather touching treatise on the impermanence of everything: youth, college, athletic talent, love’s first spark. Linklater isn’t smug or mournful about that impermanence, though—he accepts it as a natural condition of being alive, which is why these seemingly innocuous events have such a collective power. On some level, Jake and his buddies know they’re in The Bubble, and so their sexual pursuits and macho one-upmanship are about defying that reality.

Linklater has crafted another of his poignant reveries—not about how youth is squandered on the young but, rather, how youth is actually lived by the young. In its spectacular intimacy and immediacy, Everybody Wants Some!! reminds its audience that none of us know what to do except try to make the most out of the current moment. At least, we hope so—otherwise, what exactly are we doing with our time? 

Grade: A-

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Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic and host a podcast on film, Grierson & Leitch. Follow them on Twitter @griersonleitch or visit their site griersonleitch.com.