We’re living in a wacky movie world these days. The third highest grossing film of this year so far is also one of the biggest disappointments — Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice plummeted in its second and third weekends, so even though the film will gross over $300 million, it’s a domestic disappointment. (Its production budget is $250 million, and who knows how much Warner Bros. spent on marketing that monstrosity.)
Batman V Superman‘s worldwide receipts will likely brand it as a hit of sorts, but whatever. Alongside that superhero misfire is the year’s biggest hit, Deadpool, and two animated family films, Zootopia and Kung Fu Panda 3. Ride Along 2 rounds out the top five highest grossing films this year. I haven’t seen a single one of these movies.
Yes, it’s only April. But what do the studios have in store for us for the rest of 2016? You guessed it: more superheroes, more talking animals, and more lame-o c0medies, mostly. That’s why it’s extra-refreshing when an itty-bitty hit like Hello, My Name Is Doris shuffles along.
Hello, My Name Is Doris has grossed under $10 million domestically so far, which probably wouldn’t even cover Batman V Superman‘s opening title sequence. But $10 million is also about ten times its budget. In order to do comparative business, Dawn Of Justice would need to gross $2.5 billion dollars in the United States alone. (No big deal, that’s only a little more than double the business Star Wars: The Force Awakens did.)
To sum it up? In the case of Batman V Superman V Doris, the kooky old cat lady emerges as the clear victor. Take that, Zack Snyder.
Hello, My Name Is Doris is a genial low-budget comedy with modest ambitions, yet it feels a bit more revolutionary than that. How often do we see comedies (or any movie at all, really) centered on exploring the inner life of a woman in her sixties? Not many. How many pay serious attention to the fantasies of a horny old lady? By my count: zero. Doris is a quirky hybrid of Michael Showalter’s particular brand of offbeat absurdity (of the Wet Hot American Summer variety) and a lighter, nicer comedy aimed at the senior citizen market that made such films as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel viable hits. It stars Sally Field (in her first leading role in ages) as — you guessed it — Doris, the sort of person who gets branded a “cat lady,” an “old maid,” and other such unflattering terms.
Doris has held the same job all her life, working in the accounting department at a company that has gotten a lot hipper over the years. Hello, My Name Is Doris takes amusing jabs at millennials and hipsters, with a lot of one-liners aimed at pretentious Brooklyn folk. The “villain” of the piece, in fact, is a woman named Brooklyn (played by Beth Behrs), who competes with Doris for the attentions of John Freemont (Max Greenfield). Brooklyn is cute, smart, and appears to be in her late twenties. Same with John. Yet Doris somehow gets it into her head that she stands a chance with him, indulging in romance novel-esque fantasies of removing his shirt and passionately smooching.
In short: Doris is horny.Tonally, Hello, My Name Is Doris falls somewhere in between a studio romantic comedy and something a bit more acerbic. The younger characters are relatable (albeit ridiculous) to those of us around that age, while there’s also plenty of humor aimed at the AARP crowd. (Doris is dubbed a “hoarder,” though I’ll bet plenty of older folks in the audience relate to her justifications for keeping decades-old duck sauce: “It keeps!”) Here we get the requisite scenes in which Doris is taught how to use Facebook by her BFF’s granddaughter. These are somewhat odd rubbing up against a satirical look at the oh-so-ironic Brooklyn electronic music scene. But Showalter knows better than to give in to the very worst cliches we imagine coming from such this “millennial versus fogey” setup. (Unlike last year’s laborious The Intern, in which Anne Hathaway’s TED talky fashion entrepreneur had to help Robert De Niro’s wizened intern make a Facebook profile of his own.)
Hello, My Name Is Doris isn’t a particularly impressive piece of filmmaking, or of comedy, but it’s a thoroughly likable one, with only a couple of too-obvious plot beats (mainly in the third act), and several more surprises. Its best scenes are when Doris and John are hanging out, finding commonalities despite the generations that divide them. They really do have enough chemistry to make this work, even if we suspect that they won’t exactly be riding off into the sunset together at the end. (Though, to Showalter and co-writer Laura Terruso’s credit, we’re never totally sure they won’t.) Field elevates the material a cut or two above what almost any other actress would bring to the role, and Greenfield is all charm as the star of her kooky fantasies. Tyne Daly, Peter Gallagher, and Wendi McLendon-Covey ham it up in supporting roles. And Natasha Lyonne is here, too, for some reason, popping up as Doris’ co-worker in a pretty tiny role.
When taken on its own modest terms, Hello, My Name Is Doris is one of the most purely enjoyable film experiences I’ve had in a while. It’s hard to imagine anyone not finding at least a little something to cherish about its heroine. I would happily watch 100 movies starring actresses of Field’s caliber lusting after younger hunks before watching those hunks beating the CGI shit out of each other in nonsensical stories. In a cinematic universe overcrowded with caped crusaders, Doris is fresh and new. In fact, it’s early enough in the year that Hello, My Name Is Doris was my favorite film of 2016 for a handful of days — until I caught up with Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some. (The official title is Everybody Wants Some!!, fashioned after a Van Halen song, but forgive me for ignoring the exclamation points. The title isn’t this film’s strong suit.) Like Doris, Everybody Wants Some is best met with tepid expectations. It aims to amuse, and does not aim to do a whole lot more. It may be hard to tamp down anticipation for the newest film from a vertiable auteur like Linklater, who created the most grownup trilogy of all time (the Before Sunrise series) and last gave us Boyhood, an adolescent epic twelve years in the making and my favorite film of 2014.
Everybody Wants Some feels like Linklater taking a breather after the marathon experience that was Boyhood, and I’m totally fine with that. It would have been impossible for him to so quickly turn around another film with such monumental scope and impact, so Linklater did the opposite: he made a movie so featherweight, it’s nearly impossible to ascribe any deeper meaning to.
Everybody Wants Some is the kind of film that you either will or will not enjoy, and further reflection or analysis is unlikely to change that. What’s there is there, and not everyone will connect to it. The spring comedy has been billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed And Confused, but it’s better not to examine it in that context. Dazed And Confused has become an unlikely classic of the 90s, but Everybody Wants Some isn’t necessarily aiming to follow suit. Its protagonist is Jake (Blake Jenner), an incoming freshman at a fictional Texas university. We follow Jake for a handful of days after he moves into the house occupied by the very colorful school baseball team. School hasn’t started yet, so there’s nothing much for these fellas to do but get drunk, get high, and get laid. So they do.Therein lies the problem detractors of Linklater’s movie find — Everybody Wants Some is concerned with little more than these three topics, and not everyone will find these guys’ pursuit of brew, bud, and booty so amusing. But I did! Everybody Wants Some perfectly captures the directionless haze of summer days in college, particularly the few days leading up to the start of classes. Sure, some college students might actually crack a book during this time, but not the jocks. This film very clearly expresses the idea that these guys are not in school to learn. They’re on baseball scholarships, and that’s the extent of what they care about (on top of the beer, pot, and pussy). Most of these guys have no interest in their college courses, and that feels pretty accurate. A lot of people end up at college with a similar disinterest in academics, particularly when they’re not paying for it. For them, college is a good place to party. Real life is best left to worry about afterward.
Everybody Wants Some‘s cast of characters is not the most nuanced bunch of young men you’ll ever meet, but neither is the population your average freshman dorm. That’s the point. It’s not because the filmmaker didn’t think it through — Linklater’s not the type to skimp on character development without good reason. The supporting cast is populated with comedic characters who feel completely authentic in this world, including Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the stoner with a secret, the Matthew McConaughey replacement Finnegan (Glen Powell), the perpetually dazed and confused Plummer (Temple Baker), the hunky country bumpkin Beuter (Will Brittain), clueless freshman Brumley (Tanner Kalina), token black dude Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), preening peacock Roper (Ryan Guzman), who is fond of checking out his own ass in the mirror, and the cocky kingpin McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin). (The one exception to being “true to life” is the cartoonish Jay, played by Juston Street, who’s too broad to belong in this movie. He stands out in the worst way.) In this large ensemble, each of these characters — and a handful of others — leaves a memorable impact. That’s hard to do.Women are often treated like props in movies. They’re the reward a hero “wins” after a job well done. A horny comedy like Everybody Wants Some would be insufferable in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but despite the inescapable fact that the brunt of his work is male-centric, Linklater has created some fantastic roles for women in the past. Everybody Wants Some gives us one solid female character in Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a theater major who flirts with Jake while giving the cold shoulder to the more aggressive dudebros on the team. Beverly is no Celine from Before Sunset or Olivia from Boyhood, but she’s engaging enough to show that Linklater doesn’t dismiss females the way some of these characters do. Like it or not, this is the way a lot of college guys talk about women when they’re together, probably even moreso in this period (1980). The film is, in some ways, a celebration of this carefree era, a time before women were supposed to have much agency in such matters. (Though here, the women treat the guys as props as often as vice versa.) There’s an underlying mournfulness to the whole affair — we sense that this will be, in essence, the pinnacle of these guys’ lives, even if they don’t know it yet. A girl like Beverly with a good head on her shoulders, focused on her future, will go further than these athletes. We know this. But few 18-year-old males would, nor would they be willing to admit it.
Everybody Wants Some is largely autobiographical; of course, Linklater went on to do a lot more than just get drunk and play college baseball. Most of this teammates probably didn’t. The film feels like a love letter to them, and to anyone else for whom these lazy, late summer days and nights are as good as it gets. Everybody Wants Some takes place in 1980, which is more like the 70s than what we typically think of “the 80s.” Disco is still the hot club scene (in this town, at least), but hip hop is on the horizon (evidenced by a car sing-along to “Rapper’s Delight”); there’s also a night spent in a country bar. The 1980s are struggling to find their own identity, just like so many of these college kids are. (Plus, it’s hard to ever go wrong with a disco dancing scene in a period movie.) Everybody Wants Some makes good use of the clothes, the moves, the hairstyles, and the music — the party scenes are a ton of fun. The soundtrack is not overthought; nearly every song is a recognizable hit, from “Heartbreaker” to “Heart Of Glass” to “Whip It” to “I Want You To Want Me” to “My Sharona.” (We tend to think of these as 80s songs, though most were released in 1979.)The soundtrack is a tip-off to what Everybody Wants Some is really up to. It’s an idealization, not a literal representation of this chapter in Linklater’s personal history. When we look back on a fond period of our lives, we don’t necessarily remember it as it was, but by the way it felt. We forget the day-to-day bullshit we were worried about. We remember the good times, just like we remember the Greatest Hits.
In Everybody Wants Some, we get all of the fizzy fun and none of the complication. Few of these characters carry any baggage from their pre-college lives; when we learn one character’s secret, he’s already disappeared from the movie. That’s true to the early college experience, too. We meet everyone fresh, and in many cases, we’ll never get the context of how they became who they are. College is all about establishing new rules. A new horizon. Linklater’s movie unfolds entirely in present tense, minus nods to the past and without looking ahead to the future. It’s a luxury that, probably, only young white men who are between eighteen and twenty-one could afford. (Especially if they live in the comparatively uncomplicated early 80s.) We eventually discover that one character is much older than he claimed to be, and Jake surmises that he lied because he wanted to relive these glory days again and again and again. So, then, it’s not Jake who is meant to represent Linklater here. It’s this character, lovingly stuck in the past, unwilling or unable to break away from it to move on with the future. Everybody Wants Some isn’t terribly wistful, but if you look into it deeply enough, it can be read with a touch of tragedy.
So much of Linklater’s work stems from his own experiences. Though it shares more than a little something in common with Dazed And Confused, Everybody Wants Some might also be read as a sequel to Boyhood. It begins exactly where that film ends: the first day of college. In many ways, Everybody Wants Some‘s Jake might as well be Boyhood‘s Mason. (Jake is a jock and Mason wasn’t, but both are more thoughtful than their peers.) The films end on a note of potentially blossoming romance, but in both we are aware of how young these young men are, and sense that there are deeper loves in store down the line. Linklater is so very good at capturing little moments that might mean nothing, or might end up defining us. It’s only the unknown future that will place them in context.None of these characters get a traditional story arc, so it’s almost jarring when the movie ends. In a way, Everybody Wants Some feels more like a great TV pilot than a movie; as the end credits rolled, I found myself mourning that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with these guys again. These stories feel so incomplete — but that, too, is the point. The beginning of college is just the beginning. Everybody Wants Some is an enjoyably inconsequential interlude between more monumental moments. Jake and Beverly will not get married and start a family; they might not even continue dating. Most of these guys won’t stay friends. One or two might become professional baseball players, if they’re lucky. The big stories are still ahead. But that doesn’t mean there’s no value in observing what happens in the meantime.
Not every person who means something to us stays in our lives for long. They come and go. Some linger only a handful of days. Romances that seem full of possibility end up being fleeting (especially in college). It’d be easy to dismiss Everybody Wants Some as a frothy ode to good times and nothing more. (The Cars’ “Good Times Roll” does play over the closing credits.) But I can’t recall seeing a better depiction of college life than this. I don’t remember the last time a movie was populated with so many characters I wanted to spend more time with. I won’t be surprised if Everybody Wants Some remains high on my list of favorite films from 2016 — it’s certainly at the top now. I won’t even be surprised if it stands right alongside Boyhood and Dazed And Confused as one of Linklater’s essential works.
And, given her predilection for younger men, I’m almost positive that Doris would dig it.*