Richard Linklater’s newest movie, Everybody Wants Some, which depicts a college baseball team in the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll era of 1980, makes its world premiere tonight when it kicks off the SXSW film festival in Austin.
Billed as the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and the Confused, set in 1976, the film doesn’t disappoint fans of Linklater’s 1993 cult classic. The similarities are everywhere, from another killer nostalgia soundtrack, to a stellar cast of virtual unknowns (Glenn Powell in the role of Finnegan, the team’s resident super-senior lothario, is the new Matthew McConaughey in his starmaking turn as Wooderson in Dazed.)
And it’s no coincidence that the protagonists of both films are pitchers. Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins)–who we last see reclining on his bed listening to Foghat’s “Slow Ride” in Dazed and Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) who cruises down the street behind the wheel of a baby blue ’72 Oldsmobile Cutlass to the strains of The Knack’s “My Sharona” in the opening shot of Everybody–are basically the same guy.
“Four years later, that’s Mitch,” Linklater confirms.
But more than anything, Everybody Wants Some is a tribute to Linklater’s own ball-playing days. In his senior year of high school, he moved to Houston to live with his dad so he could play for Bellaire High’s Ray Knoblauch (father of future major leaguer, Chuck).
A shortstop, he almost broke the school’s single-season record for stolen bases until Knoblauch stopped giving him the “go” sign, The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna wrote in a feature detailing Linklater’s real-life childhood as the basis for his 2014 best picture Oscar winner, Boyhood. “I wanted to show off for the scouts, swing away more instead of bunt,” Linklater told the Post, “but I was willing to play my role.”
His speed on the basepath was good enough to earn a scholarship to play at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas, where he played one season as a freshman in the same year the film is set.
Linklater introduced the movie for an eclectic star-studded audience (Ethan Hawke, Parker Posey, Danny DeVito, Willem Defoe, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Ira Glass) at a screening in New York earlier this week. “For those of you too young to remember, 1980 was a fun time to be in college,” he said.
The film nails the fashion of the era with ringer tees, polo shirts, cutoff jean shorts, striped tube socks, aviator sunglasses, and enough mustaches to rival the lineup on a Guess Who? board game.
And the little details of daily life as an elite athlete living amongst teammates ring true, too. Butt-slaps as greetings, locker room pranks, freshman hazing rituals and intense competition in every seemingly-minor pursuit–from Nerf basketball to ping pong to flicking knuckles and even taking backyard batting practice with an axe–permeate the movie.
It’s that constant competition that is at the heart of the sports story he wanted to tell, Linklater says.
“This is a team that wants to win a national championship,” he says. “I played on a team like that–we were fifth in the nation my freshman year and we had that mentality, that if we’re down in the 8th inning, 9th inning that, ‘No, we’re that good, we’re going to find a way to win.’”
In one scene, Jake, who has just moved into the baseball house at the start of his freshman year, asks team veteran Finnegan what’s up with the constant jockeying among the guys on the team.
Jake: “Have you noticed EVERYTHING is a competition around here?”
Finnegan: “But you can tell a lot about a person in these little stupid competitions. Something’s always revealed. Are you a competitor, a gamer, can you find a way to overcome all obstacles, and practically will yourself to victory? Or are you…a quitter.”
“It’s a unique look into the uber-confident mindset of college athletes,” Linklater says. “By the time you get to college, you’re confident, cocky, entitled. You think you’re a badass. “
But then you’re faced with the reality that all your teammates have reason to be cocky too–they were all the best on their respective high school squad like you were and all have dreams of making it to the pros, as well.
“And you’re living with them on top of it.,” Linklater says. “Freshman year I kind of waltzed in like everybody did but had a pretty humbling year.”
It’s a breeding ground for intense inter-squad competition and intense bonding. Linklater still keeps in touch with his college teammates, many of whom were on set during filming and will be in attendance in a sort of reunion screening when the film makes its premiere tonight.
“When you’re a team, you practically live together. You care about each other. You like some members more than others, but you accept everybody. You’re a platoon,” he told Texas Monthly in 2005.
The characters on the fictional Southeast Texas University team in Everybody Wants Some are loving composites of those teammates but at least two of the characters were directly inspired by specific guys, Linklater says.
McReynolds, the alpha male on the team who can’t stand to lose, was modeled after Glenn Wilson, who was drafted as a senior at Sam Houston State in the first round of the 1980 draft by the Detroit Tigers and went on to a ten year MLB career. In one scene, the ultra-competitive McReynolds (played to mustachioed-villain perfection by Tyler Hoechlin) has a tantrum after he is beaten in a game of ping pong, destroying his paddle in a rage.
“When I beat (Wilson) in ping pong, he really threw the paddle at me,” Linklater says. “That really happened.”
But that was part of what made players like Wilson great, Linklater says. “Any world class athlete, there’s a little bit of psychopathology,” he grins.
Another character (who shall not be named so as to avoid spoilers) was drawn from one of Linklater’s real life Bearkats teammates, as well. “We had a senior pitcher transfer from Washington State,” he says. “He had a good year, went 8-2, but he was more mature–he read the Wall Street Journal, drank coffee, played backgammon.”
Years later it dawned on Linklater that the guy might have been a lot older than the 20-something years he had claimed and far past his eligibility. In a time before electronic records, you could still get away with a hoax like that.
Linklater sounds a bit wistful that his college ball playing days didn’t last longer–he was the starting left fielder and batting third in the lineup his sophomore year when doctors discovered he had atrial fibrillation after he suffered several episodes of feeling dizzy and lightheaded.
But the story has a happy ending. If Rick Linklater the athlete hadn’t had to hang up his cleats, we may never have gotten Richard Linklater, the Oscar-winning writer and director. “By that time I was already enrolled in a playwriting class,” Linklater says.
He might not have known it then, but he was gonna make it to the big leagues, after all.