Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Blake Jenner, J. Quinton Johnson, and Temple Baker in Everybody Wants Some!!
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
In the first minutes of Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner), at the tail end of a 1980 summer, arrives at his new college digs: a frat-less frat house populated entirely by fellow members of his baseball team. Upon entering, he walks to the kitchen, and the moment he gets there, the kitchen’s ceiling cracks and crunches and ever-so-slightly caves in; the guys upstairs, it turns out, have been filling a waterbed that’s clearly heavier than the second floor will allow. They come down to survey the damage, which is considerable. They marvel at how bad things almost got. And then they pop open some beers and move on to other matters.
I love writer/director Linklater’s latest (currently playing at Iowa City’s FilmScene), and everything I love about it can be effectively boiled down to that waterbed and dangerously slumping ceiling, because in the end – Spoiler Alert! – the ceiling never does crumble, and the bed never comes crashing down. In any other raunchy collegiate comedy, we’d have been made continually aware of the ceiling’s rapid decline, and be counting the seconds until the bed exploded in the middle of the kitchen, probably in the midst of some orgiastic bash that the college dean, or the lead’s parents, just happened to walk into. Linklater, however, doesn’t have time to waste on prescribed Hollywood slapstick or easily predicted narrative turns – not when his time is already jam-packed with characters getting drunk, playing ping pong, watching TV, getting high, throwing darts, disco dancing, getting more drunk, shooting pool, and practicing the fine art of just hanging around. Described by its creator as a “spiritual sequel” to his canonical high-schoolers-in-the-’70s saga Dazed & Confused, Everybody Wants Some!!, which takes place over one long weekend, has no plot to speak of, and its height of dramatic intensity concerns whether a player can successfully slice a pitched baseball in half with an ax a second time. But for the nearly two hours of this insanely charming offering, I don’t think I ever stopped grinning. Viewers who detested Linklater’s Boyhood because “Nothing happens!” will be in a similar hell here. The rest of us will be chilling out in a locale decidedly more northward.
I’ll admit there isn’t as much comic personality on display as you’ll find in Dazed & Confused, and no one to really match that film’s instantly iconic Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, or Rory Cochrane. (The closest we get is Wyatt Russell’s cerebral stoner Willoughby, who’s like Cochrane’s Slater re-designed as a California surfer dude with no paranoia and better weed.) You can also be put off, if you’re feeling picky, by so few of the actors actually looking college-aged, and all of them looking like patients of the world’s most miraculously gifted dentist. But with the exception of the eternally pissed-off fastball champ “Raw Dog” (Juston Street), whom the other players find as irritating as we do, the Everybody Wants Some!! ensemble boasts one performer after another who makes a singularly endearing impression, and you adore watching Linklater jumble them together in varying combinations so that no two scenes feel exactly alike. Jake, as our central figure, may be the “sane” one of the group, but he isn’t a blank; Linklater and Jenner allow this kid to be just as rude, hilarious, arrogant, experimental, and hormonally driven as his peers. Meanwhile, Jenner’s co-stars – a troupe that includes Glen Powell, Austin Amelio, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, and Temple Baker – are similarly winning, and fashion unexpectedly expansive characters. Even when their introductions suggest “one-joke role,” as in our first view of Brittain in his tighty-whiteys and cowboy hat, Linklater’s actors all prove to have plenty more jokes to tell.
It’s when Zoey Deutch shows up as Jake’s new crush Beverly that Linklater finally indulges in the heart-rending romanticism that many of us revere him for. Deutch, giving a magical performance (and looking uncannily like her real-life mother Lea Thompson did in her youth), slows down the movie’s antic rhythms and invests the proceedings with true soul; when Jake stares at Beverly with intoxicated awe, you know that he’d happily stare at her forever. Yet it’s also Beverly who utters what amounts to the film’s mission statement, if not its mantra: “It’s all about participating, and having the guts to look f---ing stupid.” By the film’s end, nearly all of Linklater’s college kids have certainly looked that. But they’ve participated, damn it, and I, for one, got rapturous pleasure from watching them participate, whether they were discussing Carl Sagan or equating the pursuit of baseball to the trials of Sisyphus, or merely singing along to “Rapper’s Delight” or learning how to master that “impossible” video game Space Invaders. Everybody Wants Some!! is a sensational experience, and yes, those two exclamation points are actually built into the title. Linklater’s movie is so spirited that a few more wouldn’t have been inappropriate.
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING
Has Tom Hanks, against all logic, turned into America’s most underrated actor? There was that early Bosom Buddies/Splash/Big period in which we all liked him, and then that Philadelphia/Forrest Gump/Apollo 13 period in which we all lauded him, and then that period in the aughts, culminating in the dreadful The Da Vinci Code and its sequel, in which we all thought he’d maybe run out of performance gas. But in more recent years, especially in Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies, he’s been churning out absolutely stunning performances without getting half the acclaim or awards recognition he received for far lesser work. And now, not only was Hanks’ smashing turn in the dramatic comedy A Hologram for the King not discussed in the press as much as it deserved, but the film itself, an April release, is so under-the-radar that it hasn’t even made it to area screens yet (if it ever does). What does a universally beloved two-time Oscar winner have to do to get a little respect around here?!
Maybe movies that are at least a bit better than A Hologram for the King, writer/director Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of a Dave Eggers novel that finds Hanks’ business consultant Alan Clay attempting to sell the Saudi Arabian leader on a new, high-tech teleconferencing system. It’s tough to gauge the movie’s tone, with its frequent dips into surreality and even more prevalent braying-sitcom leanings. (On three separate occasions, Clay sits on a chair that promptly breaks, leaving Clay on his ass. Come on: Hanks hasn’t gained that much weight.) Subplots involving Clay’s panic attacks and a really unpleasant growth on his spine are too queasy for their gentle-comedy surroundings. And while Alexander Black is enormously appealing as Clay’s friendly driver Yousef, this spray-tanned American isn’t remotely believable as a native Saudi, and his presence, albeit a cheerful one, undermines the film’s arguments for racial tolerance. (How tolerant will things be if Saudi Arabian figures continue to be played by white guys from Texas?)
Hanks, though, is just marvelous. Clay is convinced that he’s been a failure as everything: husband, father, son, businessman. Yet Clay’s career, and his company’s future, is dependent on him projecting the image of a winner, and Hanks finds a seemingly infinite number of ways to let Clay’s self-loathing and growing impatience (the king is never available to see him) subtly peek through an amiable façade. The strained, pained smile that slowly forms on Hanks’ face as he approaches his unbearable workplace is a thing of comic perfection. But he’s just as inspired and varied demonstrating Clay’s incredulity and mounting dread, which makes it all the sweeter when the visual and cultural wonder of the Saudi Arabian landscape begins to take hold, and he begins to fall deeply in love with his surroundings (and with a doctor played by the luminous Sarita Choudhury). In the end, A Hologram for the King is a bit like Groundhog Day and a lot like Lost in Translation, with Hanks cast in both Bill Murray roles. It’s also a flawed but eventually quite moving entertainment with an utterly first-rate star performance. The film is currently playing at the Marcus Sycamore Cinema in Iowa City, where it’s on its third week, and the only reason I didn’t catch the film earlier is because I wasn’t convinced it would be worth the drive. It may not be. Pair it in a double-feature with Everybody Wants Some!!, though, and it definitely is.