I watched Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” on the plane when I first came to Yale. It seemed only fitting, then, to see its quasi-sequel “Everybody Wants Some!!” this summer, after sophomore year. In this new coming-of-age drama, Linklater provides a stunning ethnography of the American college experience, dazzling viewers with his careful attention to evocative detail.
Set in Texas in 1980, “Everybody Wants Some!!” features college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) navigating his first days at school. Inevitably, his time is spent skirt-chasing, binge-drinking, and partying with his baseball teammates. If “Boyhood” proved Linklater’s ability to handle extended timescales, “Everybody Wants Some!!” demonstrates his directorial range, for a single weekend of action is just as well-paced.
Apart from a budding romance between Jake and an artsy theatre major, “Everybody Wants Some!” does not have much of a plot. Dialogue drives the film, along with Linklater’s fidelity to a sense of historical location. The movie captures the carefree “Morning in America” innocence of the early ’80s, in a moment between the student radicalism of the ’60s and ’70s, and the campus culture wars of the ’90s. From Pink Floyd and pinball to the shaggy hair and tight colored tees, Linklater pays painstaking tribute to the period’s social and cultural history. Wistful nostalgia is the dominant effect, but it never detracts from our emotional investment in the characters’ goals. We want these guys to get the chicks!
If there is one issue which complicates “Everybody Wants Some!!”, it is the question of race, gender and class. The film eschews political correctness, and it will, with some justification, be accused of privileging the white male gaze. Yet Linklater is almost self-reflexive — self-conscious, even — in his disengagement from identity politics, providing a space for reflection as much as a space of celebration in his treatment of bro subculture.
In contrast, Andrew Neel’s “Goat” highlights the perversity of male bonding, offering a damning indictment of toxic masculinity in American campus culture. Like Jake in “Everybody Wants Some!!”, Brad (Ben Schnetzer) is a freshman in the fictitious Brookman College, where he rushes a prestigious frat to impress his older brother Brett (Nick Jonas). What follows is an almost non-stop chronicle of hazing rituals. At one point in the film, the pledge class is stripped to their boxers and compelled to consume inane amounts of alcohol, on pain of being forced to have sex with livestock (hence the film’s title).
To the extent that the movie seeks to raise awareness of hazing and other forms of violence, it is a success: you experience every blow when characters are punched in the guts. Unlike Linklater, Neel is unsentimental in his brutality, and the saturated visual tone of “Goat” stands in stark contrast to the drained color of “Everybody Wants Some!!” Apart from its haunting realism, “Goat” also offers interesting insights into the psychology of oppression, groupthink and learned helplessness, a la the Stanford prison experiment (in one scene, an upperclassman announces, “Guantanamo-style, here we go”).
However, the first half of the film is distinctly more successful than the second. Towards the end of “Goat,” the scenes of violence feel gratuitous and repetitive, descending into a diabolical inventory of Very Bad Things that College-Aged Men Do to Other Men. The sense of dread and inevitability — one of the character dies — becomes overbearing and detracts from the potential of the story. One subplot that deserves more attention is the relationship between Brad and Brett, who is torn between his desire to protect his younger brother and his loyalty to the frat.
Despite these shortcomings, “Goat” is a necessary film in the light of ongoing conversations about Greek life, hazing, sexual misconduct and alcohol culture. “Goat” discomfits because its events, while extreme, are not unimaginable in a place like Yale. Although “Everybody Wants Some!!” is more likely to attain the cult status of a timeless classic like “Animal House,” “Goat” is a film of our times.
Ultimately, both “Goat” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” revolve around the central problem of college life and early adulthood: how does one fit in without sacrificing one’s individuality? Whether through similarity to or difference from our own experiences, college movies dramatize the intensity of this question.