Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Everybody Wants Some!! and An Untitled New Film Project

There have been a lot of great movies so far this year (Knight of Cups, Midnight Special and Hail, Caesar! among them), but the best is Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! The feeling of this movie lingered with me days after seeing it. It’s a deceptively powerful film, perhaps because underneath all of the good times and hard-partying, there’s a profound sadness that’s only revealed when it’s all over.

I'm amazed how similarly the film works as Linklater’s masterpiece Boyhood (2014) - there's really not much melancholy in the movie itself, but the experience of watching it and then leaving the cinema allows the sadness to slowly seep in afterward. Suddenly, you realize you can’t hang out with these guys anymore, and you want the good times to continue. The film’s cumulative power is so much bigger than I realized during the casualness of its individual scenes, and it isn’t until the final quiet moments of the picture, right before Let the Good Times Roll by The Cars starts playing, that the full impact of what you’ve seen hits you.

The moment that best hints at this sadness in the film is during the team’s baseball practice, in which Willoughby (Wyatt Russell) is quietly called off the field by the coach, told he has to leave the team, and shakes the coach’s hand (it’s later revealed he’s thirty years old and fudged his transcript to get back onto a college team – he simply wants to relive his glory years).

“Here for a good time, not a long time,” Willoughby says to the others in a down-to-earth manner as he’s called off the field, echoing the film’s tagline.

The other guys don’t know how to react, and we’re quickly whisked away from the potentially melancholy moment by the ridiculously bad sportsmanship of Jay Niles (Juston Street). It’s a technique that recalls something Martin Scorsese does in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), where Jordan Belfort briefly comes face-to-face with one of the deeply disturbing consequences of his lifestyle (a co-worker’s suicide) and then immediately brushes it aside and moves on to the next fun thing. These movies don’t want to linger in the melancholy, but we’re always aware it’s there, bubbling just beneath the surface.

In a strange way, Everybody Wants Some!! both doubles down on the partying in Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), and yet it’s somehow even more nostalgic and elegiac than that movie. It captures what you wish college was like, in its most idealized form.

Leaving the theater, I felt something I've experienced after some of the best moments of my life – when, after being surrounded by friends, the noise settles down and you slowly realize that that feeling won't return ever again – not that exact feeling, anyway. In a way, this feeling is what’s going to come over the characters in this movie in the near future. They’re all on their way to unremarkable adulthoods, and it’s doubtful the rest of their lives will live up to what they experience here. When I think of Everybody Wants Some!!, I’m essentially a character from the movie who wants to go back to that time.

The structure here is awesome – rather than cutting from one baseball practice to a wild party and then back to another baseball practice, we just get one long practice scene. By not cutting away from any one location too quickly, we get the most out of the hang-out feeling, like we’re really living in these scenes. Linklater and editor Sandra Adair give every scene breathing room – we’re not just jumping from one thing to another. And Linklater does such a good job of introducing fifteen central characters and helping us know and understand each of them.

And I’m amazed by how subtly Linklater is able to infuse a sense of melancholy throughout the movie. I think he partially does it through music, and by showing these characters charging ahead for their youthful goals that, sometimes, seem a little sad. Will they remember any of these frivolous games in ten years? Will any of this matter?

Take, for instance, the scene at the county-western bar, where the guys re-locate after Jay gets them kicked out of Sound Machine. One of them, Nesbit (Austin Amelio), rides the bar’s mechanical bull ferociously - and as the tune Driving My Life Away by Eddie Rabbit plays, I suddenly felt a great deal of despair.

It's something about the match between music, activity and the character's goal – he’s dead set on riding that bull as well as he can. And it made me deeply sad - for the character, for the thrills and highs we try to achieve every night as young people. It just reminded me of something. I don’t know what, exactly. Maybe it felt reminiscent of a time, place and feeling I've shared, and the truly insignificant goals we’ve all embarked upon that only distract from the larger loneliness of a given night on the town. That’s all here, in this one quick scene, with that song playing and Nesbit riding that bull.

Sometimes I think a movie is well made, but I resist connecting to it, or feel that it can’t be one of my favorites, because the characters aren’t anything like me, or the picture doesn’t mirror my own experience. But watching Everybody Wants Some!!, I was reminded that that’s not how great cinema works. Sometimes great cinema shows you what you wish your life could be, and makes you nostalgic for something you’ve never experienced. You respond deeply to the feeling of the picture without it necessarily reflecting anything in your life.

Certain details in Everybody Wants Some!! made me feel at home – for instance, the sound of white wing doves calling out in the early morning to Jake (Blake Jenner) and Beverly (Zoey Deutch) intertubing on a Texas lake.

But more than anything, this movie made me feel like I missed out. It’s what I imagine an alternate life could have been like, if I was just a little different from the way I am. A lot of what happens in the movie is almost like what my life growing up in Texas was supposed to be like. The characters in this film are the guys from my high school (in one case, quite literally), and I always felt a little left out of this kind of thing – which is why I want to make the version of this film from the outsider’s perspective (more on that below). But Everybody Wants Some!! warmly invites you to be a part of the action for two hours. In Linklater's universe, we're all connected, if only for a short amount of time.

On a slightly unrelated note, it wasn’t until watching this movie that I made a key connection between the work of Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater. The thematic material and cultures explored in the work of these two filmmakers couldn’t be more different, but in terms of storytelling approach, they both make movies that immerse you in a specific culture, time and place, in which you simply hang out among its vivid, authentic characters. There are virtually no plots to speak of in these films, but instead a huge amount of atmosphere.

With Scorsese, the pictures are often about morally conflicted, alienated protagonists and the unsettling violence, both social and literal, that consumes their worlds. Linklater’s stories have a more casual, laid-back feeling, oftentimes about the art of living in the moment without a great deal of thought about the future. These attitudes are very different, but the approaches are similar. And while Linklater’s films better represent the world and culture in which I grew up, Scorsese’s films better capture the internal struggle I continue to feel.

So, this piece is a review, yes, but also a discussion of a new project I’m planning to make this fall, which I first wrote back in August. My friend Mike Wesolowski (the star of my senior thesis film You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory) is a co-writer on the project with me, and though we wrote our script before seeing Everybody Wants Some!!, I think Linklater’s new film has helped inform how we want to make the movie. Linklater’s vision is so clear, I can’t help but relate it to my own, and in a sense use his film as part of the pitch for the picture I want to make.

In my new script, it’s as if someone dropped one of Scorsese’s morally conflicted, obsessive protagonists in the middle of a Linklater movie and he was expected to function – which may very well be the story of my life.

I'll be writing in more detail on this project, which does not yet have a title, in the coming weeks. Please check out Everybody Wants Some!! while it is still in cinemas.

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