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Letting the good times roll in 'Everybody Wants Some!!' (R)

Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! (the two exclamation marks come from the eponymous Van Halen song) feels like a movie that was made while no one was looking. How did he manage to get a big Hollywood studio to release such a laidback, convivial comedy with no traditional plot and a bunch of mostly unknown actors? Beginning with his first feature, 1991’s Slacker, Linklater’s movies have often felt like the work of a filmmaker who was getting away with something (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation).

Even his most celebrated pictures — Boyhood, the Before Sunrise trilogy, Dazed and Confused — have been aggressively uncommercial projects that found their audience despite great odds. Everybody Wants Some!! is also a movie that is destined to last: This one will have a cult following that thrives long after it has fallen out of the weekly Top 10 box office race.

Although it’s being marketed as a spiritual sequel to Dazed (which took place on the last day of high school in 1976), Everybody Wants Some!! is a different, more personal work. Instead of trying to capture a panoramic view of a particular stage in life, like he did with adolescence in the previous film, the new movie is about a specific moment in Linklater’s life: his freshman year in college in 1980, when he attended Sam Houston State University on a baseball scholarship.

Told through the eyes of Jake (played by Miami native Blake Jenner), a newcomer to Southeast Texas State University, the movie unfolds over the course of the weekend before classes start. Jake, a pitcher, moves in to the dorm house he’ll be sharing with his teammates. Among them are the alpha-male Glenn (Tyler Hoechlin), the dedicated Roper (Ryan Guzman), the pothead Willoughby (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt and Goldie Hawn), the straight-arrow Billy (Will Brittain) and the short-tempered Jay (Juston Street). 

After some brief, requisite hazing — a rite of passage amongst men, no matter the setting or circumstance — Jake is accepted into the pack and sets out to explore the brave new world that has opened to him. One of the themes of Everybody Wants Some!! is the exhilarating sense of freedom that comes when you’re first living away from home, without any sort of responsibilities or restrictions. Sure, there are the rules laid down by the team’s coach — no booze in the house, no girls allowed in the bedrooms upstairs — but those are easy to ignore. And homework is still a couple of days away, which for Jake might as well be two years.

Right now, there’s serious partying to be done — co-eds to meet, discos to crawl, campus parties to crash and bro-bonding to be done. Like the rest of Linklater’s movies, Everybody Wants Some!! has no cheap villains or bad guys: Some characters are more innately likable than others (Jay, who is prone to bouts of rage, is particularly prickly), but they’re all essentially decent, ordinary people, and they’re united by their allegiance to their baseball team, which they regard as everything from a gateway to a professional career to a way to help pay for their studies.

There’s no traditional plot in Everybody Wants Some!! The movie follows Jake and his friends from one escapade to the next while capturing the competitive nature innate to athletes (particularly guys) and reveling in the period details of the era. Linklater uses music to great effect, from a sequence in which the gang drives around singing along to Rapper’s Delight to scenes in which they try to adapt to the rapidly changing popular culture of the time (one night it’s a disco, the next a country band, a third a punk-rock club). The humor is observational, not joke-driven. The mood is loose and easygoing, and the dialogue flows because Linklater loves words, and he’s keen to listen in on his characters no matter what they’re prattling about, whether it’s the existence of ESP or the manliness of using a bridge stick while playing pool.

The heart of the movie lies in Jake’s blooming romance with Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a young woman who catches his eye and piques his intellectual curiosity. Away from the rest of the guys, Jake reveals a side of himself the movie hadn’t shown us before (you wonder what would have happened if he had tried to discuss Sisyphus with his teammates instead of her). Their scenes are sweet and genuine, and Jake behaves in a way we haven’t seen before, a reflection of how young men adhere to pack mentality and put up a front in the company of their friends in order to fit in.

Everybody Wants Some!! is the rare sort of raunchy American comedy that allows as much time for scenes of people simply talking as it does for mud-wrestling matches and bar brawls. This is a smart, wise and compassionate movie about young people in the act of finding out who they are and not always behaving properly but never crossing the line into cruelty or crassness. If you happen to have been around during 1980, the soundtrack is just a bonus.

Cast: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman, Zoey Deutch, Will Brittain, J. Quinton Johnson, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Juston Street, Austin Amelio, Temple Baker .

Writer-director: Richard Linklater.

A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 117 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema Wynwood.