KICKING AND SCREAMING is a good, but too frequently trite movie
about the superficiality and meaninglessness of young people's lives
today. It tells the story of a group of boys just graduating from
college, and although there are many girls in the cast, they are in
secondary roles. It is being billed as a droll comedy, but it really
isn't. The movie at its best is an insightful satire on young
adulthood. I laughed a couple of times, but more often I was either
touched by the dialog or just bored.
First time writer and director Noah Baumbach assembled a cast of
typical college kid looking actors and actresses. Most have been in
other shows about Generation Xers that either I have never seen or that
I hated, i.e., shows like NAKED IN NEW YORK or AMATEURS. None had been
in the absolutely wonderful BEFORE SUNRISE which is proof positive that
shows about people in their 20s can be both well made and not
In KICKING AND SCREAMING's circle of friends are Grover (Josh
Hamilton), Max (Christopher Eigeman), Skippy (Jason Wiles), and Ottis
(Carlos Jacott). The perpetual student and local bartender, Chet (Eric
Stoltz) has "taken every class in school" and yet is still a student.
Chet says that he can not understand why people want to be lawyers or
doctors, when they can be students. Chet is also the only one
interested in real knowledge. The others spend their time in make
believe trivia game shows and appear to have vast surface knowledge
about everything like "the names of eight movies where monkeys played a
leading role", but no interest in the meaning of anything. One
semester Skip takes only: Ethics, Scandinavian Literature, and
Their girlfriends are Jane (Olivia D'Abo), Miami (Parker Posey),
and Kate (Cara Buono). Finally, Elliott Gould, an actor who was never
very good, is a complete embarrassment in this movie as Grover's dad.
He demonstrate what happens to a bad actor when he goes down hill.
Luckily, he has a limited number of scenes.
Two of the main girls in the movie, Jane and Miami, have an
unusual way to flirt with boys. They take the retainers out of their
mouths and hold them like cigarettes or twirl them around their fingers
and then get their boyfriends to hold them. Weird.
The movie has way too many failed attempts at sight gags. Jacott,
who is almost as bad as Gould, wears a pajama top with a tie to the
graduation party. In another scene, someone breaks a glass in his
kitchen and then puts a sign that says "broken glass" over it rather
than sweeping it up. Baumbach should have concentrated on the dialog
which is the high point of the show and given up on the sight gags.
Baumbach's dialog ranges from the insightful to the bizarre. Chet
is the philosopher even when serving drinks. To a regular who thinks
Chet is nuts, Chet muses, "If Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle
is a dry martini." In another scene, Max, talking about his parents
says, "It's like my real parents were assassinated, and they were next
in line for the job. They fight a lot, but they'd never split." Jane
keeps calling Grover from Prague and leaving messages on his answering
machine about everything, even her tour of Auschwitz.
Although the guys and gals hang out a lot, none of them have more
than a superficial interest in each other or in life itself for that
matter. I found this part of the movie believable but incredibly sad.
The kids smoke a lot, and drink all of the time. I am sorry to report
that movie seems to say that you can drink Scotch and Colt 45 malt
liquor with one large swig after another, and yet never get mush
mouthed, stumble, or have it in any way affect your body or your
behavior. Since the film is clearly targeted at the 12-29 age groups,
it is freighting that this movies trivializes alcoholism so much. Most
kids in the show have major drinking problems that the picture makes
Other than the two pieces of terrible acting mentioned previously,
the other actors and actresses were good. Eric Stoltz who needs good
direction to be effective got it from Baumbach. Stoltz has been
pathetic in some films (NAKED IN NEW YORK and SAY ANYTHING) and quite
good in others (ROB ROY and THE WATERDANCE). Here he was the best
person in the cast.
The almost sepia colored photography by Steven Bernstein and the
depressing and lifeless costumes by Mary Jane Fort add to the overall
moroseness of the show. Bernstein likes using a series of black and
white stills that dissolve into a lightly colored set of stills which
then dissolve into a live action scene. It is a technique that works
well at focusing the audience's attention on the character's
KICKING AND SCREAMING runs a quick 1:34 thanks to editing by Julie
Dole. It is rated R for heavy drinking that teaches a bad lesson,
heavy smoking (ditto), some bad language, some nudity, a little sex,
but no violence. If you let your teenagers go, go with them if you can
and talk about the movie afterwards, especially the drinking, the
smoking, and the real reasons for going to college. This could be a
good opportunity to open up some communication with them. I found
myself touched by the movie, and although Baumbach's film showed a lot
of potential, too much was unrealized for me to be able to recommend
it. I give the movie my average movie rating of **.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes