As a rule, I try very hard not to write film reviews of the "consumer report" style, but sometimes it's important to look a potential ticket-buyer square in the eye, grab them firmly by the shoulders, and state clearly and urgently, "it's important that you know this". And there is something that it's important for you to know before you check out Everybody Wants Some!!, writer-director Richard Linklater's snapshot of four days of college life in Texas in the late days of summer, 1980: don't expect it to be like Dazed and Confused. The filmmaker himself has been very open about calling his new film a "spiritual sequel" to his second feature and one of his reigning masterpieces, and the film's ad campaign has been eager to follow suit, but there are profound differences in kind between the two movies. Dazed and Confused is a sprawling ensemble film that uses a wide range of characters on the last night of the school year to explore as much of the human condition as it can bite off: it is a panorama of life that goes far beyond the personal experiences of several white Texan teenagers in 1976.

The more narrowly-focused Everybody Wants Some!! - the two exclamation points are my favorite detail of movie title punctuation in quite a while - is about a bunch of sex-hungry jocks, and it's kind of only about a bunch of sex-hungry jocks. It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, an artistic masterwork of depicting sex-hungry jocks: it might share the DNA of Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds, but so too does it share the DNA of I vitelloni and The Last Picture Show. If you handed Jean Renoir the screenplay for Losin' It, maybe you end up with something like Everybody Wants Some!! But still, the... I can't in fairness call it "smallness", because Linklater has done small better than any currently living filmmaker, in the Before... movies, but the film lacks the mesmerising sprawl that made Dazed one of the foremost triumphs of the '90s indie movement.

None of this is inadvertent or besides the point: among its many thematic interests, Everybody Wants Some!! is about the way that the psychological task of navigating college involves taking a role in a tightly-bound in-group, while being aware of that group's relative littleness in the galaxy of similar social niches. And that's interesting and unusual, and when the film really starts to play with that concept in its final stages, it results in the best and most exciting sequences it has to offer. Still, even genially nerdy sports bros aren't the most inviting company, and it's a little disappointing that there's a solid hour of movie where we don't get to spend any time with anybody else; and it's pretty conspicuous that there aren't any female characters worth the name for that hour, also. Though, like Boyhood with Patricia Arquette before it, the film does end up handing its most challenging role to a woman who returns its most interesting performance. We'll get there presently.

Taking place in 1980 - the year that the incoming freshman of Dazed would be entering college - the film's main focus is on Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman pitcher joining the nationally renowned baseball team of an unnamed Texas university. His weekend begins by meandering through the about-to-fall-down pair of houses where most of the baseball players live (largely in some loose, fluid tracking shots nimbly staged by cinematographer Shane F. Kelly), meeting a cast of largely interchangeable goofy dudes: Roper (Ryan Guzman), "Finn" Finnegan (Glen Powell), Plummer (Temple Baker), Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), Billy "Beuter" Autry (Will Brittain), Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), Brumley (Tanner Kalina) a few others. They form a homogeneous blob that drives around town semi-successfully hitting on women, hangs out at the local disco semi-successfully hitting on women, swap philosophies that are suspiciously articulate and manifesto-like (a Linklater's gotta Linklate, after all), and get drunk and stoned a lot. All of this while onscreen text cheerfully counts down the hours till classes start at the end of the weekend.

It's plot-light, but not plotless; sometime around in all of that, Jake decides to see if the girl, Beverly (Zoey Deutch), who seemed like she was flirting with him was actually flirting with him, and she brings a blast of fascinatingly discordant energy to the proceedings. The film cannot, without destroying itself, shift away from the hedonistic male POV it has operated under, but it also needs very badly for Beverly to be a completely worked-out character in her own right who has an entire range of well-expressed interests, talents, and dreams, and it falls to Deutch to do very nearly all of this without the aid of a script that feeds her only slight hints. This is not a new kind of character creation for Linklater's movies: it's basically the thing that the Before... movies are. That doesn't make it any less exciting to see it working so perfectly, and it's when Beverly enters the movie in a sustained way that Everybody Wants Some!! starts to really stretch and find itself - not only because of Beverly's presence, though that's part of it. The four days of the movie are perhaps unreasonably accelerated, but they describe the arc by which Jake figures out that as much fun as he's having drinking with his baseball bros, that is how much fun many other people are having at the exact same school without any connection to baseball whatsoever. There's no such thing as an ungenerous Linklater film, but Everybody Wants Some!! is high in the running for the most generous yet: a celebration of how remarkably cool it is that we can all like different things and lead different lives.

The other thing that's really incredible about the film is that homogeneous blob of sex-starved boys. In the first scene, Linklater throws them all at us with little differentiation, making it awfully hard to get a sense of who they are beyond the basic level of "these are the freshmen, these are the rest". Then the rest of the movie happens, and they all start to slowly, without any striking "aha!" moments, separate into equally different people. Some are crazily anxious strivers. Some are just there to have as much fun as possible before they graduate and have to take shit jobs to live as boring grown-ups. All of them turn out to have meaningfully distinct personalities that shade the basic description of "rowdy jock" into a whole array of different attitudes. It's obvious what's going on - we're getting to know them at about the same rate that Jake does - but it's so thoroughly that I don't care. It's basically the rest of the film in miniature: pointing out the tiny differences between individuals with love and joy.

All of which sounds totally great and quintessentially Linklaterish, and it's certainly the latter of those, but on the whole... it's a darling, amiable film, but there's a lot of not-quite-there about it. Some of the performances are terrific - after Deutch, Powell is a clear standout, playing up the angle that his character has made the choice to be flippant and relaxed as a coping strategy for knowing that he's on track for nothing at all special in life - and many of them are utterly ordinary, with Jenner himself ably filling the necessary role of tabula rasa - but is that really the mark of a great movie protagonist? I've mentioned already the claustrophobically snug relationship to characters who are frankly not very pleasant to be around if you're not on their general wavelength of smiling hedonism, and while Linklater's knowledge of this sort of person (he was a Texas college baseball player himself), along with his skill in shading them as unique personalities, makes this far more interesting than almost any other "bro-ing out" comedy I can name, it still drifts awfully close at times to endorsing the shallower ends of its cast's worldview, and not just depicting it.

There's only so much one can watch a cluster of young men endlessly praising booze and sex without wishing we could see anything else, and it's surely no accident that the sequence where the movie most vividly comes to life is the solitary baseball practice, shot with a documentarian's focus on behavior and action, edited together by Sandra Adair as an impressionistic flow of nostalgic summer sensations. Seeing the characters doing as opposed to conspicuously not-doing helps snap them and the film itself into focus at exactly the point that its aimless, hang-out do-whatever vibe threatens to become oppressive. Nobody does the sheer pleasure of just being in the moment better than this director, but even he needs to give us a solid reason why we want to be in this moment with these people, and Everybody Wants Some!! at times runs close to missing that crucial point.