September 8, 2006

Kicking and Screaming

Reviewer: Alex Brinkman
Rating (out of 5): ****

If there were to be established a genre of movies involving the angst-mongering nature of post-college malaise (ignoramus that I am, there may well be), Kicking And Screaming would easily shoot to the top of the list, alongside The Graduate and possibly Garden State. The old Lit. 101 term for this type of story is a Bildungsroman, or, for the unpretentious non-Germanophile, a maturation story. Noah Baumbach�s (The Squid and the Whale) debut effort (as a writer and director) perfectly captures the "Now what?" feeling of life after college, both through his sharp writing and a very solid ensemble cast. Criterion's new DVD for the film is a welcome, quirky addition to their library.

The film opens on a graduation party as Grover (Josh Hamilton) loses his girlfriend Jane (a cute/quirky Olivia D�Abo), the requisite appearance of Eric Stoltz, who plays Chet the eternal student/oracle, Otis (Carlos Jacott) a hapless engineering doofus under the heavy influence of his friend Max (Whit Stillman favorite Chris Eigeman), Skippy (Jason Wiles) and his girlfriend Miami (Parker Posey, of course - it is an independent). While there are, as with any ensemble film, a few tangential subplots, the main thrust is Grover�s loss of Jane to Prague and his inability to make any decisions. Happily, he is joined in this Sartresque hell by his college friends, who are all suffering at the hands of similar existential dilemmas. Flashbacks to a budding Grover-Jane romance pepper the chronology of the film as it marches through another academic year with the cast employing mostly non-academic pursuits, or no pursuits at all. Highlights include Stoltz extolling paternal wisdom, Eigeman laying his perfectly timed and erudite smart-assitude down nice and thick, and Jacott weakly avoiding confrontation - and grad school. While at times the dialogue feels like a list of funny things people once actually said and which Baumbach decided to write down, one is still grateful he had a pen in hand. First efforts sometimes suffer from autobiographical transparency, and while there is a self-conscious riff running through the movie, one can relate despite this, or possibly because of it. Intelligence, wit, humor and romance, all in one very well-executed package.

The Criterion disc includes a new video interview with writer-director Baumbach, as well as conversations featuring Baumbach and cast members Eigeman, Hamilton and Jacott, rare deleted scenes, and a fun short film from 2000, Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation, directed by Baumbach and starring Kicking and Screaming cast members Jacott and John Lehr.

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Posted by cphillips at September 8, 2006 8:55 AM