I honestly can’t quite tell you why this movie works, but in its own weird and nostalgic way, it does. Perhaps it is because of how writer/director Linklater (Boyhood) allows the story to simply tell itself; from the chaos emerges the tale. This is his strong suit when it comes to film, but it is utterly non-intuitive and completely unexpected when it works.
Blake Jenner (Glee) leads the cast of college kids during the few days before classes begin. As part of the championship baseball team, the team are all housed together and, each year, must re-establish their camaraderie and cohesiveness to keep their trophies coming in. Linklater captures the final days of summer, 1980 (albeit in a very narrow way) in attitude, dress, music, and feel wonderfully. He is neither ironic about it nor judgmental. It just is. And by using various dance clubs and student cliques, he has the team explore all there is to offer in the period.
In addition to Jenner, Glen Powell (The Expendables 3), Wyatt Russell (Cowboys & Aliens), and Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) stand out with characters that are more than just their surface. The ensemble as a whole is quite solid, but most of the characters are really just that, characters. They fill out the world nicely but don’t bring any particular spark to the screen as these three did.
One aspect missing from this film is that 1980 existed on a precipice of change in society and the world. You can intuit that, if you’re old enough to recognize the moment and the history that followed, but there is no hint of what comes next. That is probably fair and good given Linklater’s perspective in the film, but it makes it feel more like a home movie, historical, rather than investigative, a piece of meaty commentary. I cannot judge him for that. In fact, it is one heck of an act of self-control to strip a modern perspective from the action, but it makes it a bit less as a movie for me. We get to know these characters for 2 hours, but ultimately only get the tiniest bit of story and direction… and that only from the last 5 minutes.
See this for the nostalgia or for Linklater’s prowess as a filmmaker, but don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat. He works his magic to keep you interested, but the payoff is somewhat forgettable, or at least it was for me.