In what must be a first in the 120-year history of movie marketing, the poster for Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some advertises the film as a “spiritual sequel” — specifically to Linklater’s classic high school movie Dazed and Confused. But Dazed and Confused chronicled a day in the lives of a variety of Texas teenagers; nerds, athletes, stoners, rockers, and bullies. Everybody Wants Some focuses almost exclusively on a bunch of boorish jocks; the rowdy members of a college baseball team. In other words, this spiritual sequel’s spirit is nothing like Dazed and Confused’s.

The primary pleasure in a typical Linklater film comes from spending time with the characters; amateur philosophers who love to ponder the meaning of life, death, love, and dreams. But the guys in Everybody Wants Some only care about — and only really talk about — partying and getting laid. Their behavior is oafish and mean. Their conversations are crass and inane. In the early sequences, Everybody Wants Some is borderline unpleasant. At first, it feels more like a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused if every character was Fred O’Bannion, the obnoxious a-hole played by Ben Affleck who cruises around town looking for incoming freshmen to beat with a wooden paddle.

And then a strange thing happens. Slowly, subtly, and without any dramatic shifts in tone or story (because everything in Linklater movies happens slowly, subtly, and without huge dramatic shifts in tone or story) the characters deepen and our opinion of them changes. What initially appears like a mob of dumb jerks, reveals itself as a collection of lovably quirky and hilarious individuals of different backgrounds and beliefs.

It still might be more accurate to call the movie a mirror image of Dazed and Confused. It’s a repetition of its predecessor’s formula — and also an inversion. Instead of the last day of the school year, Everybody Wants Some is set in the weekend before fall semester begins. The baseball players have been given two ramshackle houses to live in, and as the film begins incoming freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) moves into his new home. The mood is immediately contentious; although the seniors stress the need for teamwork, they’re also paranoid about the newcomers stealing their spots in the lineup. So their welcome is fraught with tests and provocations. They give the freshmen cruel nicknames; they play one prank after another. (Note: If someone in a locker room ever tells you they can paralyze you with just two fingers placed carefully on your sternum, whatever you do, do not believe them.)

It takes Jake a while to settle into a groove with his new teammates and so does the movie. After spending 12 years on a single project, you can’t blame Linklater for following it up with something a bit lighter. Everybody Wants Some unfolds like a non-stop party, with the boys bouncing from one bar to another in an endless quest for the next buzz and female companion. But there’s stuff going on beneath the surface as well. The team goes to a series of different clubs — disco one night, punk the next — which makes Everybody Wants Some both a lively survey of early ’80s pop culture and a microcosm of every college’s freshman’s search for identity. That theme is also present in the romance between Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutsch), a theater major he meets cruising around campus. Jake and Beverly come from two different worlds and they’re probably headed in two different directions. But their witty, flirty conversations are delightful, and the closest Everybody Wants Some gets to the territory of Linklater’s Before movies.

Like any good baseball team, Everybody Wants Some has a really deep bench of versatile role players. There’s McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the team leader with a killer swing and a hyper-competitive streak; Finn (Glen Powell), the smooth-talking ladies man who could have been pals with the gang from National Lampoon’s Animal House; Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the potheaded veteran who thinks weed enhances his natural telepathic powers; and “Raw Dog” (Justin Street), a hilariously insecure pitcher who will stop at nothing to prove his toughness (and whose deranged obsession with respect makes him the movie’s breakout star and biggest scene stealer).

Like a lot of Linklater’s movies, Everybody Wants Some is so low-key it’s easy to dismiss it as nothing more than a bunch of dudes hanging out and cracking jokes. The drama is so muted, you don’t realize how brilliantly Linklater (who also wrote the film’s screenplay) builds stories and subplots until they’re already coming to a head at the team’s first voluntary practice. The drunken parties and hookups might seem frivolous, but the film is about how those first few days at college are actually way more important than anything taught in any class. It’s in those early, seemingly aimless days, when everything happens. That’s when you find out who you really are.

The film’s structure — off-putting in the early going, irresistible by the end — is ingenious. In making a movie about a baseball team hazing its new members, Linklater created a movie that feels like a hazing. The early scenes test the viewer, and will probably put some people off. But if they survive the initiation they’ll be rewarded. In the beginning, you watch these guys as an outside observer. By the end, you’re a member of the team. And you won’t want the movie to end.