This one is just a plain ol’ gem. While it essentially exists as a middle-aged man looking back on his college years and only remembering the best parts, it is pretty damn fun to watch. It took me a few viewings (I’ve gone through this movie more times than I should) to understand that these characters aren’t really supposed to be that lovable… most of them are entitled assholes who you probably met and hated in college. Having said that, it would be hard to find a movie where the cast has better chemistry than this one; they obviously love spending time with each other and it shows. Even if you find EWS exhausting at the beginning, what with its absurd fetishization of college life, the swagger and charm of its cast will wear you down.
Hollywood has been hyping up college to kids for decades and while this movie does its fair share to pile on to that, it approaches the subject matter with a little more delicate nuance. The characters love to drink and get girls but honestly, it’s entirely possible that, that was Richard Linklater’s college experience in the early 80’s.
The obvious standout here is Glenn Powell as Finn, the charming, pseudo-intellectual you definitely met five times in college. He’s the character you most want to be and also the one you’d probably want to tell to shut up after he rambles about his theories on Dante for ten minutes. The obvious weak point is Blake Jenner as Jake, the lead character, which seems to be a recurring issue in Linklater’s movies recently: Ellar Coltrane started out pretty charmless and eventually became insufferable in “Boyhood,” and here, Jenner is pretty monochrome from start to finish, and not even in a way where he grounds the rest of the wackier characters in reality… he just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the actors. Put Wyatt Russell in his role, or at least someone that I believe A) has played baseball once in their life and B) acted in something other than Glee.
Linklater, as he has done many times in his career, seems to be out to prove that “plot” is overrated and he’s right to think so. There’s no overarching goal these characters have, they’re just having as much fun as possible during those glorious few days when you show up to college but classes haven’t started yet. He proves that if you create a cast of characters that feel real and put them in a fully-realized setting, you can get away with just letting them exist, in fact, you probably should. There doesn’t need to be a ham-fisted plot about them earning enough money to save the team or having to win the big game so they can go to the playoffs, they can just exist without the need for some climactic payoff.
Much like my real days in college, hoping that classes wouldn’t actually begin and I could just hang out with my friends all day, every day; I spent this whole movie, dreading the idea that it would eventually end and that the characters would have to go to class and I’d have to leave the theater. In a theatrical landscape where many movies are overlong and overstuffed with lore and in-references, I find myself playing “fantasy film editor” and trying to figure out which scenes could be cut or trimmed so I’m not in the seat for way over two hours but here, I was bummed out by the constant reminder that the characters’ long weekend was rapidly coming to a close.
I would be totally game for Linklater to make direct sequels to this movie on a regular basis because I know it wouldn’t grow tiring. What works about the movie isn’t some clever storyline or hook that can be ruined with a continuation. What works is the comradery and that will never get old. Show me more weekends of these guys; show me what else they do! The parts that work best are not the slightly toxic party/girl chasing scenes, but the scenes of them day drinking on a Saturday afternoon. They feel authentic. The scenes of the WILD AND CRAZY parties sometimes feel not too far off from an American Pie movie, and only the charm of the cast brings them back to reality, especially when it borders the line of parody: “let’s get these girls to mud wrestle!!,” and “theater kids are so weird!”
It would be totally reasonable for someone to find this movie and its characters completely insufferable, but I would argue that most college students are pretty insufferable, no matter what their personality is. I would understand if someone had a hard time watching these entitled douchebags get whatever they want, especially in the semi-forced subplot of Jake meeting his first love in the thoughtful, legitimately interesting and intelligent Beverly (Zoey Deutch) despite the fact that there is literally nothing interesting about him.
EWS is far from indicative of what the real college experience is and one could argue that it inflates male egos quite a bit, but you can’t take away the fact that this movie, at its core, clicks into what a bunch of guys hanging out is really like sometimes and as a guy who has spent a lot of time hanging out… it was fascinating to see it portrayed so accurately.