The two exclamation points are a part of the actual title of the film. That sold me right there and I immediately decided that this was a great film. Of course, I’m kidding. What sold me on this film right from the get-go was the fun trailer, the marketing that plugged this movie as a “spiritual successor” to Dazed and Confused and of course, the fact that it was directed by Richard Linklater, who along with D&C, also directed Waking Life, Before Sunrise, School of Rock, Bernie (a great underrated film – check it out) and most recently one of my favourite films of 2014 – Boyhood. I also enjoy the fact that Linklater used a cast full of unknowns and lesser-known actors rather than the names that he most certainly could have gotten on board.
I could explain the story but this is where it’s going to get confusing and sound like I’m criticizing the film: it really doesn’t have much of a story. This is not to say that the plot is weak or non-existent because the writing is bad or because it’s not helped by the performances but rather because it is a very intentional move on writer/director Linklater’s part. Much like Dazed & Confused, this is a big, sprawling film centering on a number of characters taking place over a very short period of time (one weekend to be exact). In fact, it’s almost like a snapshot of their lives during this brief period of time rather than a film where they are going from point A to point B in predictable fashion like a lot of similar stories. These guys are basically all trying to get laid and are getting ready for school to start by partying like crazy, drinking and doing drugs. Oh, and it takes place in the 1980s. Linklater is one of the few directors that can seemingly take a very mainstream-looking comedy on paper and import arthouse elements while also being accessible to casual audiences at the same time. He does not alienate his audience one way or the other; there is enough intelligent humour to appease his fans and there are still lots of broad, funny situations to appeal to comedy fans in general.
The cast of young actors is quite strong and these performers shine mostly because they are so natural and look and act like anyone you could’ve met in college back in the day. I wasn’t old enough to experience the 1980s at the same age as these guys but they come across as so genuine that I had no problem believing that this is what it was actually like back then. I’ll pick out my favourites in the film but keep in mind that everyone was quite good. Blake Jenner plays the title role of Jake (the new pitcher who moves into the dorm) and is very likeable and seems like more of a sweet guy than most of his fellow teammates. Wyatt Russell is also a real hit as the mysterious and philosophizing Willoughby, a stoner that seems to understand the world in a very interesting way and isn’t a woman-chaser like the other guys as well; when we eventually find out more about Russell’s character it’s quite interesting because we only hear second-hand information from characters and nothing from him specifically. Temple Baker kinda reminded me of Rory Cochrane in Dazed and he was a fun character, especially when getting stoned and just going into stream-of-consciousness discussions. Juston Street is insane as the testosterone-filled pitcher who is often shunned by the rest of the group. I didn’t like him at first but he grows on you throughout the course of the film because he is just as crazy as the rest of the guys; he just doesn’t hide any of it in subtext. Zoey Deutch is the only one I recognized and that was only because she appeared in Dirty Grandpa, which I enjoyed on another level but it’s not even in the same ballpark as this movie. Zoey is also charming and adorable but not oppressively so and she is a very intelligent and well-written female character in a movie full of dumb, aggressive jocks and the women seemingly willing to jump into bed with them.
The writing in the film is excellent. I mentioned that a lot of them were dumb jocks but these characters are fully-realized and make lots of interesting observations about themselves and others. One of the more interesting aspects is how competitive the teammates are with each other and it’s interesting to see one character mock how another is a sore loser only moments before they act in a very similar manner or sometimes even worse. They also begin to question their own identities several times especially in a number of scenes where they attend a discotheque, a country rodeo type bar and then a punk concert all in the span of a couple of days. One of them even asks the other, “who are we?” as they rock out to some music that is rather foreign to their ears. Another thing regarding the writing is that things don’t just happen for the sake of the plot. We don’t get a lot of will-they-won’t-they, tacked-on conflicts or situations (we get a close call with one character but it’s quickly wrapped up in a very REAL way) or neat and tidy endings to stories. It’s a very refreshing style of filmmaking and if you desire something a bit different in your comedies then I recommend you check it out.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)