Kicking and Screaming [DVD]
Director : Noah Baumbach
Screenplay : Noah Baumbach (story by Noah Baumbach & Oliver Berkman)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Josh Hamilton (Grover), Olivia d’Abo (Jane), Chris Eigeman (Max), Parker Posey (Miami), Jason Wiles (Skippy), Carlos Jacott (Otis), Eric Stoltz (Chet), Cara Buono (Kate), Elliott Gould (Grover’s Dad)
Kicking and Screaming, Noah Baumbach’s directorial debut, is a clever, intelligent comedy about the pains of growing up. The main characters are four college friends who are as different in personality as they are alike in their collective fear about being grown-ups. Having reached a milestone in life--college graduation--they don’t want to move on, fearing the world outside and falling back on what they already know: hanging out together at the townie bar they frequented as college students, playing trivia games, and trying to sort out the complexities of their lives.
The film begins at a graduation party and introduces us to all the main characters. Grover (Josh Hamilton) and Jane (Olivia d’Abo), both of whom are literary majors who want to be writers, have been dating for the past year, but clearly their relationship has hit a stage of “emotional paralysis,” as she puts it, and is threatened by the fact that she is going overseas to Prague for the next year. Max (Chris Eigeman) is the group’s self-appointed grouch, guaranteed to find the negative side of everything, while Otis (Carlos Jacott) is the group’s worrier. “You have two emotions,” Max tells him. “Antsy and testy.” Finally, there’s Skippy (Jason Wiles), the group’s most naïve and overeager member who seems clueless that his girlfriend, Miami (Parker Posey), who still has a year left of college, seems to despise him. And somewhere on the perimeter is Chet (Eric Stoltz), who is mistaken at the party for an adult and for good reason: he’s been going to college for 10 years, struggling to finish his senior thesis (apparently, it’s entering it’s third volume).
These characters are simultaneously insufferable and charming. After all, one can indulge in only so much self-analysis before becoming a self-obsessed bore, but these characters tread that line very carefully. They differ from many movie characters their age because they are clearly and openly intelligent, even if they’re not very smart. These are characters who can discuss Kant, Keats, and Raymond Carver (not to mention name all the Friday the 13th movies), but at heart they’re petrified of life and have no idea how to tackle it, a central theme that is hilariously summarized in their tendency to duck down and hide whenever a particularly persuasive door-to-door salesman known as “the cookie man” comes knocking. They would rather lie on the floor and hide than face true adversity.
Kicking and Screaming is a comedy in the classic sense: it “aims at entertaining by the fidelity with which it presents life as we know it,” as one etymological dictionary put it. The film’s title is appropriate in that it derives from the idea that these characters will be dragged into full adulthood “kicking and screaming,” yet it’s amusingly misleading because the comedic tone and approach to the material is smart and low-key. The film is frequently funny as a direct result of its fine writing. Baumbach, working from a story he concocted with Oliver Berkman, a lifelong buddy with whom he attended Vassar, fills the scripts with memorable one-liners, but more importantly, with keen insights into his characters and their unstable place in life. It’s the kind of film that constantly makes you laugh, but without ever letting you forget about the ennui just under the surface.
Baumbach adds a level of poignancy to the story by including flashbacks to show how Grover and Jane met and came together. There are four of these flashbacks scattered carefully throughout the film, and they work precisely because Baumbach doesn’t go for the easy emotions. He uses them to show the slow, dawning realization that these characters are attracted to each other despite their starting out as antagonists (Jane is the only student to criticize Grover’s story in a writing class). There isn’t instant attraction or love at first sight, and we never even see them kiss. Yet, the moments they share together, which are sometimes awkward, sometimes sweet, make us rethink the opening scene and wonder exactly where it all went wrong.
Kicking and Screaming was one of several thematically and tonally similar “Generation X” comedies released during the early to mid-1990s, represented on the far indie side by Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991) and on the far Hollywood side by Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites (1994). Baumbach’s film falls somewhere in the middle--a relatively modest effort by a first-time writer/director that was funded by a small studio (Trimark). The result is a polished film, but one that lacks that potentially strangling refinement of a full Hollywood production. Despite making some concessions (such as the creation of the Chet character just so Eric Stoltz, then an indie darling, would have a more prominent role), Baumbach stays true to his touching and funny vision of intelligent young adults who are smart enough to know that the comforts of adolescence are hard to give up.
|Kicking and Screaming Criterion Collection Director-Approved DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||August 22, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion’s new high-definition transfer, which was made from a 35mm interpositive and supervised by Noah Baumbach, looks great. Colors are strong, and the image is clear and well detailed, if just slightly soft. The liner notes indicate that the MTI Digital Restoration System was used to clean up the print, although one would hope there wasn’t too much work to be done since the film is only 11 years old. One thing to note is that many of the scenes (especially those that take place in the bars at night) are extremely dark, sometimes to the point that it feels like a problem with the transfer. However, since it was supervised and approved by Baumbach, one can only assume that this is how those scenes were intended to look. Plus, scenes that take place in the sunlight are bright, so the transfer obviously isn’t dark as a whole. |
The original soundtrack, transferred from the original 35mm 4-track magnetic stems, has been remixed into a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack (oddly enough, the original soundtrack mix is not an option, a rarity for a Criterion disc with a remixed soundtrack). The new mix sounds very good, even though the surround effects are limited primarily to the directionality of planes flying overhead in the airport scenes, a few offscreen voices (one of which is a bit overdone), and the effectively minimalist musical score.
|While there is no audio commentary, writer/director Noah Baumbach was personally involved in most of the disc’s supplements. He first appears in a new video interview that runs about 12 minutes. In it, he talks about what it was like to make the film, its origins, and some of the changes he made as a concession to the distributor (including writing Chet into the screenplay). Baumbach also appears in a series of new video “conversations” (which total about 25 minutes) in which he talks about making the film with cast members Chris Eigeman, Josh Hamilton, and Carlos Jacott. The disc also includes four unfinished deleted scenes in anamorphic widescreen. Each scene is preceded by a brief explanation written by Baumbach as to why it was left on the cutting room floor. An odd, but amusing, inclusion is “Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation,” a short film from 2000 directed by Baumbach and starring Kicking and Screaming cast members Carlos Jacott and John Lehr. This improvised film, shot on digital video, was originally intended to be the beginning of a Laurel-and-Hardy-type series that never took off. Lastly, the disc includes roughly 10 minutes of interviews with Baumbach and the cast that was originally broadcast on the Independent Film Channel as part of their coverage of the 1995 New York Film Festival, as well as the original theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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