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College Life Before Facebook

Paramount Pictures and Annapurna Pictures.

Imagine a time when young people formed their relationships through lazy hours of aimless talk, not with any help from the omnipresence of smartphone screens but actually face to face with one another.

It may be unfathomable for a child of the 1990s or later, but such a time existed as recently as the ‘80s. Thanks to Boyhood writer/director Richard Linklater’s newest film, Everybody Wants Some!!, even millennials can get a taste of what life, and human conversation, entailed before technology took over.

Much has already been made about the occasionally questionable politics of Linklater’s movie. Centered on the story of a Texas college baseball team and their sports-bro shenanigans in the weekend leading up to the start of classes, Everybody Wants Some!! isn’t lacking for moments to make the political correctness police raise a red flag.

Less noted is how the film goes to great lengths to recapture the pace of a pre-iPhone era—and invite us into it. The movie opens on freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner) as he drives up to his new home for the next four years, rocking out to The Knack’s “My Sharona”. The mood is instantly set, not just by the throwback music and Jake’s vintage wheels, but even by the pace of the editing. Far mellower than the hyper-stimulating montages and slapstick back-and-forth of the comedies modern audiences are used to, Everybody’s leisurely opening scenes give us the chance to re-acclimate ourselves to a period when nobody was in as great a rush as we constantly are now.

The film is fragrant with the unmistakable whiff of reverence for a time gone by. Linklater’s own history as a ballplayer for Sam Houston State University informs the fondness with which he recreates college in the ‘80s—the music, the unsupervised tomfoolery, the terrible facial hair. But it’s easy to get the sense that, even more than all the external trappings of the time, what Linklater really misses are the conversations about life and love that once used to unspool, unimpeded by the distracting glow of pocket-sized screens, around the living room and in the dugout and at the bar.

Linklater has always been one of the talkier filmmakers working in Hollywood, and his previous movies attest to his respect for human conversation. His debut feature, the Sundance breakout Slacker, is a relay race of tête-à-têtes between the collegiate layabouts of Linklater’s hometown Austin; his Before Trilogy tells the story of star-crossed lovers who fall in and out of love through long, meandering dialogues across Europe. The same goes for his latest outing, where the ballplayers spend just as much time chasing after women and fun as they do shooting the bull with one another or pondering life’s deepest meanings together.

Everybody Wants Some!! is out to have a good time, but in slowing itself down to match the pace of life in the ‘80s, rather than speed itself up to meet the expectations of increasingly more restless audiences in 2016, it holds a backward-looking mirror to our changed culture of conversation. We see in Everybody’s characters the ways that repeated facetime and a willingness to acknowledge the voice and face of the other shape our relationships. It’s as Sherry Turkle claims in Reclaiming Conversation: “relationships deepen not because we necessarily say anything in particular,”—and rarely does the half-baked philosophical banter between Linklater’s ballplayers amount to much in particular—“but because we are invested enough to show up for another conversation.”

Turkle is writing here about families specifically. Surely a baseball team, as any sports team, counts as its own type of family, one that is subject to the same laws of conversation as the biological family. And indeed Turkle’s words prove to ring true over the course of the film. When Jake arrives at his new home in the beginning of the movie, his interactions with the more senior members of the team are marked by antagonism and even mild cruelty. Yet by the film’s end, after only three days’ worth of endless talk between older and younger teammates, Jake has graduated to more even footing and camaraderie with his superiors, not least of all for helping them expand their own preconceived ideas about college life and what awaits them beyond the baseball diamond.

Many will take the “Some” in the title Everybody Wants Some!! to refer to the raucous good time enjoyed by the jocks therein. Though might it also refer to that eternally human desire for connection with one another? One can only hope that the smartphone generation will see this movie and be moved, not so much by the regrettable fashion choices and social politics of the era as by the deeper relationships that could so quickly take root in an iPhone-free society.

Tim Markatos writes from Washington, D.C.

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