Kicking & Screaming
August 25, 2006
The early to mid-1990s was a great time for American independent cinema with the likes of Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, Whit Stillman, Noah Baumbach and many others gaining prominence through film festivals and home video. Like the aforementioned filmmakers, Baumbach’s films are dialogue-heavy and character-driven, focusing on overeducated, unemployed Generation Xers trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Kicking and Screaming (1995) is about a group of friends who have just graduated from college and refuse to leave because they are still trying to figure out what to do next.
Jane (D’Abo) plans to go to Prague much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Grover (Hamilton). Otis (Jacott) plans to go to graduate school in Milwaukee but gets too anxious and stays (as his friend tells him at one point, “You have two emotions: testy and antsy.”). Max (played to sarcastic perfection by Eigeman) falls back on his parents’ money. Chet (Stoltz) is a professional student. As scatterbrained as Otis is Skippy (Wiles) is even dumber – no easy feat as evident in a scene where Otis refuses to leave the house until he sees how a detergent commercial ends. Like Max, Miami (Posey) has a caustic wit and they bond at a bar commenting on phony types they observe from afar. They have sex even though she’s going out with Skippy. For all of their education and obvious intelligence these characters don’t really connect with each other in meaningful ways. Max and Miami have sex but they don’t love each other. Max and Otis don’t really seem to be friends – Max merely tolerates Otis.
Chris Eigeman and Carlos Jacott play well off each other with excellent comic timing as evident in the opening scene at a post-graduation party where Otis says or does something stupid and Max just gives him a withering glare that is priceless. Obviously, Baumbach also thought they worked well together as he teamed them up again in his next film Mr. Jealousy (1997). Kicking and Screaming features a lot of laugh-out-loud one-liners (“There’s food in the beer.”) and funny conversations with Eigeman and Jacott delivering the bulk of them. Yet, for all of the witty dialogue there is a mean-spiritedness behind a lot of it. At one point Skippy actually addresses it, effectively calling attention to the superficiality of a lot of their conversations.
Kicking and Screaming is filled with spot-on observations about that nebulous time between college and joining the work force. These characters can talk about the merits of Raymond Carver as easily as the finer points of Josie and the Pussycats. Like the characters in Slacker (1990), the ones in Baumbach’s film may lack direction but they aren’t lazy. As Clerks (1994) shows, it takes a lot of effort to avoid responsibility. For example, Chet and Otis start a book club (if two people can constitute a club) while the latter works a dead-end job at a video store.
While Kicking and Screaming is made up of a series of vignettes there is one subplot that runs throughout and that’s the relationship between Grover and Jane. Even though they break-up as the film begins we see how they met and became a couple through a series of flashbacks. There is genuine warmth and affection on display in the flashbacks between the couple with nice chemistry between D’Abo and Hamilton that makes the movie a lament for their failed relationship. After this auspicious debut, Baumbach flew under the radar until recently when he co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and enjoyed considerable critical success with his own film The Squid and the Whale (2005) that continues his interest in group dysfunction only with a family instead of a group of friends.
There is an interview with Noah Baumbach done in 2006. He talks about the genesis of the screenplay – based on experiences of him and his friends post-college living at home. Initially, he was influenced by Woody Allen’s screenplays in terms of format and finding his characters through dialogue. Baumbach touches upon how this film got financed and the experience of making it.
Also included are conversations between Baumbach and Chris Eigeman, Josh Hamilton and Carlos Jacott recorded in 2006. Baumbach had seen Eigeman in Barcelona (1994) and wanted him for the role of Max but figured he’d be too busy but, according to Eigeman, he was “shockingly available.” Baumbach knew Jacott from college and always had him mind for the film. They all tell amusing anecdotes about the movie.
“Conrad and Butler in ‘Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation’” is a short film that stars Jacott and John Lehr from Kicking and Screaming as two Abbott and Costello types. Baumbach originally had hoped this would take off as a sitcom, a comedy album, etc. but it never happened and so this remains a curious oddity in the director’s filmography.
There are three deleted scenes with text introductions by Baumbach. Another Grover and Jane flashback reveals her prior relationship with Chet. Also included is a bit more about Grover’s meaningless affair with a freshman girl. There was a character that was very similar to Chet and so his screen time was cut down as a result.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.