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Coming of Age with Richard Linklater

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Coming of Age with Richard Linklater – Director of ‘Everybody Wants Some’ – by Helen Major

Death, fear, pleasure – for the majority of people, there are aspects of the human condition that hold your fascination more closely than others. This is equally true for the storytellers in the world. When you look at the body of work from any one film-maker, or novelist, certain thematic patterns emerge. The pattern in the work of Richard Linklater is that of life in transition. The Texan writer/director choses to focus on people who are experiencing pivotal moments in their life. Case and point, his ‘Before Sunrise’ trilogy, and even ‘School of Rock’.

Often, however, he uses that captivating period between childhood and adulthood. His critically acclaimed film ‘Boyhood’ follows, in real time, the development of a boy and his family, ending right before the beginning of his independent life. ‘Dazed and Confused’, too, centres on a group of people at this stage of life, with some characters either entering high school and others on their way out.

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His most recent film, the hilarious and endearing ‘Everybody Wants Some’, follows along this thread. The story shows a college baseball team gathering together on campus the weekend before the semester begins. They get acquainted with each other in the standard way among students – alcohol and the quest for sexual fulfilment.

This period in life is very much a stepping stone from the dependency of childhood, to the worldly independence of adulthood, and that’s exactly what Linklater gives us here. The Freshmen of the team, including our protagonist Jake, have eye-opening experience that only university can provide. Somehow they learn more about humanity in that one weekend than you could ever expect three nights of partying to provide.

As a director, Linklater makes a few tactical decisions in this piece that work in his favour. To begin with, he seems to consciously branch out beyond the single social circle of the nuclear characters, which is unusual. He adds characters from the punk scene, the theatre scene, the country scene, and many more to add an uncommon level of diversity into the story. By doing this, he is giving himself far more space to explore multi-dimensional human interaction. It also makes the film much more relatable. The wide variety of characters depicted means that anyone can watch it and find some aspect they can relate to.

The other noteworthy decision that Linklater makes in this film is setting it in the 80s rather than modern day. You could argue that it’s safer, and easier, to simply write what you know, and that this is the reasoning here. But in truth, you have to admit that it would have been a completely different film if he had chosen a post-Facebook generation. Coming-of-Age narratives have been completely refigured for this generation. As a basic example the characters quest for sexual fulfilment would need to take place almost exclusively online. This is not only significantly harder to dramatize on screen, but it also prompts a completely different conversation. Suddenly the film would be about the techno-fying of our social lives, and that’s clearly not what Linklater wants to talk about.

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Beyond the thematic function of the setting, it also has the tactical effect of injecting an atmosphere of nostalgia into the film. From the moustaches to the music, the cars to the nightclubs, the throwback is unavoidable, and so indulgently entertaining. It means people in their middle age can go along to the film and relate to it, but the subject matter is still accessible for modern young adults.

It is obvious that Linklater is a director that revels in his craft. His films feel like they were a joy to make, especially this one, and they feel like genuine representations of what it’s like to be alive. In many instances his characters are coming of age on screen, but he uses this mechanism as a way of imparting what he has learned of life onto his audience. He is inviting his audience to grow alongside the characters, and with a film as charming as ‘Everybody Wants Some’, it’s hard to resist.

 

 

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