everybody

from Indy Week 

Nature has wisely arranged things so that we live through our youth while we’re young. With the energy we expend in our teens and twenties, and the changes we must navigate, we’d never survive otherwise.

Richard Linklater’s new comedy, Everybody Wants Some!!, captures this sentiment nicely. Set in the fall of 1980, it follows a group of young, perpetually horny college baseball players in Texas. Like many of Linklater’s films, all the way back to Slacker, it meanders and drifts, less interested in plot than in characters, situations, and moments. Linklater has billed the movie as a spiritual successor to his seventies paean, Dazed and Confused. In another way, it continues 2014’s Boyhood, which ends where Everybody picks up: in the first days of college.

Incoming freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) is a promising pitcher. He’s been placed in off-campus housing with the baseball team, a dubious administrative decision that leads to the first of many Animal House-style parties. We gradually meet the rest of the team: Upperclassman Finn and McReynolds are dismissive of freshmen in general and pitchers in particular. California transfer student Willoughby brings the dope and surfer wisdom. Niles, from Detroit, is an alpha dog who’s wound several twists too tight.

It’s so nice to be in the hands of a talented filmmaker like Linklater, who refuses to let his characters devolve into stereotypes. Just as in Dazed, the weird specifics of each cast member bounce off one another, generating authentic ensemble comedy. Everything that happens in the house, from playing ping-pong to smoking pot, becomes a competition. Ballplayers—what are you gonna do?

If the movie has an arc, it’s about the boys’ relentless pursuit of sex, an impulse Linklater treats as entirely natural and healthy. Going wherever the girls are, they roam like pack animals to the disco, the country bar, the punk show, and the theater party. In a rare moment of self-reflection, one jock observes, “Whenever we’re around baseball, all we talk about is girls. But whenever we’re around girls, all we talk about is baseball.”

Moments like this suggest the film’s quiet cleverness. On the surface, Everybody looks like a college comedy jammed with eighties nostalgia—Space Invaders, Devo, terrible mustaches. But there’s no toxic irony curdling it into a That ’80s Show-style burlesque. The movie’s primary colors are laughter, enthusiasm, and joy, and the dialogue is funny and revealing.

“I actually don’t think at all,” Finn says. “I just talk a lot.” That’s the trick, isn’t it? These are not thoughtful guys, but they live in the moment, and so does the film, in which Linklater reaffirms his place as our best chronicler of American Zen. Alright, alright, alright.

This article appeared in print with the headline “American Zen”

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from Indy Week

When he’s locked in, Don Cheadle has more raw wattage than any other screen actor I can think of. He broke into the business in 1995 via the criminally underrated Denzel Washington noir Devil in a Blue Dress with an audition tape that has since become Hollywood legend. (Google it.)

milesMiles Ahead, the Miles Davis biopic Cheadle’s been shepherding for more than a decade, is a fascinating bookend to that audition tape. It’s his baby all the way—he co-writes, directs, and plays the title role—and it’s as much a testament to his journey through the Hollywood system as it is a tribute to Davis.

Miles Ahead announces Cheadle as a formidable filmmaker who’s not afraid to break rules. In fact, his biopic of the great jazz innovator isn’t really a biopic at all. It’s an impressionistic caper movie, largely fabricated, set during Davis’s fallow period in the late seventies, when he got serious about his drugs and stopped making music altogether.

Ewan McGregor costars as a Rolling Stone journalist who accompanies Davis on a mad, entirely fictional crusade to recover stolen master tapes, a structure in which Cheadle can weave his impressions of the man and his music. Biographical details are inserted in flashbacks and carefully constructed scenes that illuminate Davis’s creative genius and chaotic personal life. The crucial moments come in the spaces between the plot points.

Cheadle’s bold storytelling crescendos in a frenzied finale. A shootout at a boxing match shifts into a concert scene, with Davis playing trumpet in the bloodied ring. Time bends and folds; past and present flicker until only the violent beauty of Davis’s music remains. Cheadle’s performance is, as usual, superb—he nails Davis’s sinister, throaty rasp—and Emayatzy Corinealdi provides a critical counterpoint of sanity as Frances Taylor, Davis’s wife and muse.

Miles Ahead opens with a quote from Davis: “If you’re going to tell a story, come with some attitude, man.” The same line pops up at the end, too: Cheadle is giving us the key to unlocking his thrilling, unconventional film essay.

This article appeared in print with the headline “American Zen”