Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 58 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 6.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck. My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
If baseball pitcher Jake’s (Blake Jenner) father ever tried to impart such wisdom to him, the young baseball player pays it little heed in Richard Linklater’s new film. Taking place during three days before the opening of classes at a small Texas college in August of 1980, the freshman is soon faced with all the temptations that the author/compiler of Proverbs warned against. Virtually all of the lad’s new teammates intend to score with one or more of the beautiful coeds they come across and imbibe as much alcohol and pot as their youthful bodies can absorb.
Jake, arriving in his own Oldsmobile, receives little encouragement from mustachioed McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), who declares when the newcomer introduces himself, “I hate pitchers.” Jake fares better with other teammates–smooth talking Finn (Glen Powell) who reads Kerouac; Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a lover of pot and self-styled truth teller; Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), the only black athlete; “Raw Dog” (Justin Street), also a pitcher, but highly insecure and given to rants; and Roper (Ryan Guzman), a sort of pack leader who takes Jake and some of the others out for a welcome-week joyride.
The macho competition between the guys is on display no matter what they do– table football, ping pong, darts, pool, pinball, Space Invaders, and, picking up ladies. The guys at one beer-sodden party even entice some coeds to engage in mud wrestling! The slight plot finds the guys seeking the pleasures of a disco club; a cowboy bar; a punk show, and a bizarre costume party thrown by theatre majors. The latter comes from Jake seeking out Beverly (Zoey Deutsch), a theater major that he had met while cruising around campus with Roper and friends. Despite their different backgrounds and present affiliation, the two hit it off well, partly because, unlike most students at the college, they both feel dedicated to their major interest.
While I am far less charmed by this film than most critics (I prefer Linklater’s Boyhood and Before Midnight), I enjoyed the film as a window through which we can peer at a group of guys in what they will come to regard as their golden years. Their college experience is so different from my own mundane experience when I was their age—but then, so were the times.
The director/writer certainly moves us beyond the jock stereotype found in so many movies set at a college. These guys are individuals with their own peculiar needs, fears, and plans. Most seem to know that although they are good enough to have earned athletic scholarships, none will ever make it into professional baseball. Thus they want to make the most of the four years that their skill has bought for them. Except for the one scene in which their coach greets them and lays down the rule of no girls and no booze in their two houses, there seems to be no adult supervision or mentoring. At least for the three days leading up to classes, they are free to follow their own devices. I can’t help thinking that if they encounter a teacher as engaging as John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, most of them will turn out to be delightful adults, maybe even open to the wisdom to be found in the book of Proverbs.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the June issue of VP.