Read on esquire.com
AUSTIN, TEXAS—Everything about Richard Linklater’s work is cyclical. Linklater—perhaps the only person who could pose a challenge to Willie Nelson as The Unofficial Mayor of Austin—premiered his new film Everybody Wants Some!! at the city’s historic Paramount Theatre to kick off the 30th South by Southwest Festival last night.
First things first: The movie is funny as hell.
It’s a sex-drinking-stoner comedy about an unspecified Texas college baseball team during the few days before fall semester. It’s an ensemble cast of unknowns, and it sufficiently lives up to its auspicious packaging as a “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused. And while the two films are both set in Linklater’s home state and take place four years apart (1976 for Dazed, 1980 for Everybody), there are no overlapping characters or plotlines. Save for drinking all night, blazing, dragging main, trying to get laid, trying to figure out why you are so desperate to get laid, drinking all day, having existential conversations in the cool morning light, then going to class drunk. Plus: stoner conspiracy theories!
Linklater has always been a master of natural dialogue, but, as he’s done before, he lets his period-appropriate soundtrack do a lot of the work here. Linklater’s musical choices drove Dazedforward (think “Slow Ride,” “Low Rider,” and “Tuesday’s Gone”) and they are the backbone of this film (it’s 1980, so we have disco collars and “Heart of Glass,” “Ladies’ Night,” and “Shake Your Groove Thing.”) Early in the film, a five-man riff on “Rapper’s Delight” spirals into perhaps the most memorable car-singing scene of any film since Wayne and Garth belted out “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
And while you probably won’t recognize a single face as the film breezes by, just take comfort knowing that those who saw Dazed in theaters back in ’93 probably had the exact same experience. Back then, Ben Affleck had but a few minor credits to his name, Parker Posey hadn’t yet reached her indie darling status, and it was literally Matthew McConaughey’s second movie. But the anonymity of the cast works here, and Linklater knows it. Instead of cringing as, say, Miles Teller rides a mattress down a flight of stairs like a bobsled, or Shailene Woodley strips down for a mud wrestling match, we just sit back and watch a bunch of regular kids act like kids. The actors (almost all young men) are but one element of Linklater’s larger nostalgic snapshot, where every fridge opens to a six pack of chilled Lone Star or Schlitz. There are crates of vinyl and hot pants and humming neon bar signs. There’s ping-pong and foosball and mechanical bull riding. There are dick-taps and jock-strap moonings and bloody knuckles. So much of the dialogue is eye-rollingly immature (“Cock gobbler!” “Cock jockey!”) and yet it’s still so very authentic. Even the actual baseball in the film moves at a refreshingly slow and natural pace, with foul balls and extra beats between pitches.
Shortly before the film’s opening night premiere, Linklater was summoned to the Paramount stage by Austin Chronicle co-founder Louis Black, who made a documentary about Linklater and his influence on Austin culture that is screening throughout the festival this weekend. He touted Linklater’s decision to remain in Austin after his early-’90s success, when de-camping for New York or L.A. would have made a lot of sense. “The consequences of that decision are reverberating today,” Black said, bragging that a mere five years after the festival expanded from music to film, you had auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh hanging around because of “Rick,” as he’s known locally. Linklater was meek in his pearl-snap Western shirt, jeans, and black cowboy boots last night. He held the mic with one hand and stuffed the other in his pocket. He brought out his ensemble cast one-by-one like a proud dad. Most of them already seemed buzzed. At least one shimmied to the back of the theater double-fisting icy cans of Lone Star.
There’s a particular humanity that Linklater finds and brings out in the people he works with, a particular eye for talent and strangeness. He found it and nurtured it in Ethan Hawke, who only gets better during each of their collaborations. He found it in McConaughey, who, for his second-ever movie role, took the character of Wooderson and ran away with it. McConaughey’s still-quotable one-liners are part of what gives Dazed its staying power, its success, its ability to inspire a “spiritual sequel” like Everybody. Back then, McConaughey was just a handsome blonde with a Texas drawl; not quite jumping out of the frame as a future Oscar winner or star of a critically acclaimed, cerebral HBO drama. But there he was, more than two decades later, with a ponytail and mustache, sipping beer like Wooderson and carving empty cans of Lone Star into mini sculptures. Linklater knows how to tell a good story, even if that story is about pretty much nothing and takes place within a very short period of time. He knows music, he knows comedy, he knows talent. One of the wet-behind-the-ears kids in this movie may one day be an Oscar winner (maybe even the kid who left the stage double-fisting Lone Stars), because everything about Linklater’s work is cyclical, and because time is a flat circle.