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Richard Linklater Makes Fascinating Art Out of a Bro-y Sausage Fest

Richard Linklater gets older, but his movies about dudes trying to get laid stay the same.
April 6, 2016, 2:05pm
All photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Since his 1991 debut Slacker (which helped culturally define both Austin, Texas, and the titular Gen-X term), Richard Linklater has proven to be a great creator of relaxed, pleasurably rewatchable time capsules. Many of the Oscar-nominated filmmaker's features use the passage of existence itself as a bold cinematic device, like his ambitious trilogy of romantic dramas starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (1995's Before Sunrise, 2004's Before Sunset, 2013's Before Midnight) and his 2014 opus Boyhood, in which a schoolboy subtly ages a dozen years over the course of two-and-a-half hours onscreen. Other Linklater films explore the comedic minutiae of specific milieus: 20-year-olds loitering at convenience stores in the underrated SubUrbia, East Texas adulthood during the same mid-90s period in Bernie, and Dazed and Confused's last day of high school, circa 1976, which came from the director's own memories.

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Charming in a low-impact, near-idealistic way, Linklater's latest hangout is Everybody Wants Some!! (the exclamation points both his and Van Halen's), which has been called a "spiritual sequel" to Dazed since it takes place in 1980s college life. Loosely inspired by the director's own short-lived career as a collegiate ballplayer, the film follows a rowdy baseball team as they wile their days away partying, trying to get laid, hazing the newbies, and competing (off the field, and over anything). It's the weekend before the semester starts, and a freshman pitcher (Blake Jenner) is getting acclimated to his new bunk buddies—some goofy, others philosophical, and at least one with a "raw-dog" temper. There's a crushable drama major (Zoey Deutch), and maybe the guys should go to their soirée tonight? What more is there to the plot when you're in college, after all?

As Everybody Wants Some!! continues to roll out to theaters nationwide, I spoke with Linklater by phone about the understated differences between high school and college, casual homoeroticism, and why his female characters might seem neglected.

VICE: I'm sure at this point you're tired of hearing the words "spiritual sequel."
Richard Linklater: [Laughs] Well, I brought it on myself. I don't know if I coined the term but I used it, then it ended up on the poster. I can't blame anyone but myself.

In relation to Dazed and Confused, why now in your life and career did you want to revisit your college days? It's been 20-plus years since you examined your high-school experiences.
I know, it's some strange delay pattern from my past to delve in. Hard to explain. I've been thinking about this film most of the century, starting around the time I originated Boyhood. It must have been something I was going through at 40-ish that I was like, "Yeah, maturing." I had done the high-school movie and was thinking about college; what the differences were, what a big transition that is in life, and what it means personally.

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Also, I was thinking about a group of young men—the farther you get from that "bro hangout" thing, the weirder it gets. It just goes away in your life, that time when you're around all guys and everything's testosterone, the humor, and chasing the tail. It's such a brief window in a lifetime. [Laughs] You think, "Oh, it'll always be like that." But no, I've got three daughters. You know, you mature. I'm not even sure what it means, it's just an interesting moment, especially in the world of athletics. All these things were swimming around, so I wanted to examine that little phase of life.

Are you a nostalgic person, or is it more about writing what you know?
I'm not really that sentimental about the past, because I have this exacting emotional memory, not only visual. I can't go back and say, "Oh, I felt better about the world then." The older I get, the better I feel in a way. I just remember a certain era in life and want to deal with it in fiction. I put it in the category of "memory film." So much of it happened in some form, or it's an amalgam of a time, place, and energy.

Dazed and Confused shows how social hierarchies can flatten into common ground. We see jocks hanging out with stoners, seniors talking to freshmen. In Everybody Wants Some!!, why did you narrow your focus to the camaraderie of baseball bros?
That's how I felt. It's a contradiction because in high school, you don't have much freedom. You're a prisoner in your parents' house. You have to be in school. I felt more constricted there, but you realize that the free-floating socialization is the last gasp of that kind of democratic [experience]. You're all in this together, whether you like it or not.

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In college, you segregate based on your choices and what you're majoring in. Hey, you don't have to be there to begin with! The world is based more on your choices, which puts you in a box a little bit. College is all about expanding your horizons, but if you look up in history, the clique is imposed on you. You're experiencing unprecedented freedom, but social pressure keeps you in more of a category then you've been before, not just psychically but physically. You're an English major, you're in the band, you're in the girls' dorm. It was effortless in high school to blend in because everything is practically mandated, even the social life. There's one party for one school. Well, in college, there are a lot of parties on any given night, all over the place, and they're clique-ish.

You've said you were critiquing young male behavior in this film, but not everyone would agree. MTV critic Amy Nicholson criticized what she saw as neglect for female characters with actual dialogue or even names. Is that a fair read?
Observationally, it's accurate, so it's not unfair. But she fails to get into the absolute POV of the movie, which is these young guys. Like I was saying, you're segregated. In high school, you're in class or on the school bus. College, in this case, you're in the dorm with the guys and you had to go out of your way to socialize. You had to find the place where the girls were, and the girls are doing the same thing with the guys.

They've come a long way now with coed dorms, but back then, it was much more gender-segregated, and so that was the point of view. If you do a war movie, that's the environment. I'm doing a jock movie, and these young guys are on the prowl. When you go out to a disco and meet girls on the dance floor, you get to know them pretty superficially. It takes more effort to bond. So the movie does eventually show him bonding with one substantial young lady he feels a connection with. They're very different but find common ground because they're both performers. I told Zoey Deutch, "Young womanhood rests completely on your shoulders."

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Vulture had a fascinating angle, saying it's "accidentally one of the gayest movies of the year." Locker-room ass-slapping is nothing new, but did you foresee the vanity and teabagging pranks of these young hunks might be deemed homoerotic?
That's fine with me. Sure, I'm not stupid. I think the guys, by and large, are so assured of their masculinity that they could do all that. That changes in the culture, too. Gay rights and issues became even more public that people became more sensitive, not only to not offending people, but to perception. Back then, when you were on the road for an out-of-town game, pro and college teams would stick four guys in a room and put you in a double bed with one of your teammates. They don't do that now. Isn't that funny? Now they give everybody their space. Times change.

You have a gift for making movies about hanging out look so effortless. In order to keep the tone consistent and the momentum going, what's the most vital part of your process: writing, production, or editing?
If it's more of an atmospheric character-based thing, you better get all that right. You're not hanging your hat off much else. On the practical execution side, a ton of rehearsal and workshopping [is important], thinking through each scene and beat, and coming up with what seems authentic that we can replicate on film. It's not just rendering words on a page. I think you can do that in a plot-driven story where there's a schematic driven by plot points. This is told in a slightly different way. I approach every film in a similar manner. It's not like there aren't twists and turns—it's just they're much more subtle and have to work completely. All we have are these character through lines. That's my natural storytelling mode, I don't know how to describe it.

Richard Linklater and Blake Jenner on set, bro'ing down

Perhaps it's like talking to an actor about acting. It's an instinctual process and therefore not easy to have a conversation about it.
Yeah, a little bit. I did come into this with theories I'd thought a lot about—notions of performance, representing reality, and cinematic storytelling as opposed to other kinds of stories. I've always been in this area of narratives and cinema, depicting something that's trying to be accepted as real. This is right in there with so much else I've done.

This is your 19th feature film, and every one I've seen feels like a personal expression. Has anything changed about your reason for making movies?
I don't question it too much. I can find my way into a story that feels personal to me that maybe didn't happen to me, like if it's adapted from a novel. I just realize that I [must be] obsessed with something—a story or some characters that have gotten into me and don't go away—for me to make a movie. Say I write something, and I find myself not thinking about it or I've resolved whatever central issue I'm trying to explore. If that exploration ends and I'm satisfied, I won't make the movie.

Something has to stick with me for reasons I can't totally articulate. The movie becomes the exercise of that, and usually by the end, I feel like I know something I didn't at the beginning. In this case, I came out saying, "You know, that was a good time to be in college." Where even in high school, I'd go: "I don't know if that was a good time." I really don't.

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Everybody Wants Some!! is in theaters now.