The Criterion Collection presents
Kicking and Screaming (1995)
"What I use to be able to pass off as just another bad summer can now potentially turn into a bad life."- Max (Chris Eigeman)
Stars: Josh Hamilton, Olivia D'Abo, Chris Eigeman, Parker Posey, Jason Wiles, Carlos Jacott, Eric Stoltz
Other Stars: Cara Buono, Elliott Gould, Catherine Kellner, Eliza Roberts, Chris Reed, Perrey Reeves, Alexia Landau, John Lehr
Director: Noah Baumbach
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexuality, language)
Run Time: 01h:36m:29s
Release Date: 2006-08-22
DVD ReviewNo, this isn't the soccer comedy with Will Farrell. That's another, very different film altogether.
Instead of frivolously manic, literal kicking and screaming here, there is a massive vacuum of indulgent self-awareness in nearly every character present in this Kicking and Screaming, the Gen X 1995 debut of Oscar-nominated (The Squid and The Whale) writer/director Noah Baumbach. It is really about going kicking and screaming into the precipice of adulthood, and what can be done to halt that inevitable leap. But it is that very bold swath of indulgent self-awareness that makes this story of a gaggle of college graduates facing the uncertainty of the "real world" so rewardingly clever and likeable, anchored by a terrific ensemble cast of smart, self-absorbed mini adults trying to find themselves.
As the son of two respected writers/critics—The Village Voice's Georgia Brown and The Partisan Review's Jonathan Baumbach—Baumbach shows off his breeding with a film that is steeped in a weird mixture of pop culture and literary throwaways, set in days and months following college graduation amongst a small group of friends. Grover (Josh Hamilton) and Jane (Olivia D'Abo) are at a critical impasse in their relationship (she's going to Prague to study), Otis (Carlos Jacott) is dreading his post grad relocation to Milwaukee, eternal cynic Max (Chris Eigeman) seems perpetually unhappy, and freewheeling Skippy (Jason Wiles) finds romantic turmoil with Miami (Parker Posey). On the fringes is Chet (Eric Stoltz), a near mythical German/philosophy major on the ten-year plan, content to work as a bartender as his longterm educational plans set him apart as someone to be either revered or ignored.
There's a hip richness to Baumbach's dialogue, crammed tightly with sudden bursts of innocuous trivia-laden conversations ("can you name eight movies in which monkeys play a major role?"), which one character refers to as nothing more than "affectations that become habits," as the group struggles to stay together even as they realize it is just delaying the inevitable. Skippy thinks assigning the group a name ("The Cougars!") will help unify them, and Otis tries to keep his collegiate roots alive by hooking up with permanent fixture Chet and instituting an ill-fated book club for two.
While there are plenty of funny, quotable lines, the film digs a little deeper as Baumbach introduces us to the dissolving relationship between Grover and Jane. We first meet them in the opening scene, as they bicker like an old married couple about her impending move to Europe, and over the remainder of the film we are given occasional flashbacks about how they met. These scenes—which open with a slow black-and-white fade to color—really stand apart from the rest of the lassitude of the other characters, and there is a genuine sweetness to the way Josh Hamilton and Olivia D'Abo interact. Their meandering and natural first date smalltalk (the descriptions of their parents as presidents is brilliant) rolls around in gentle and revealing waves, and it makes reliving their opening argument suddenly more sad than funny. But that's where the film's final scene—a touching interplay as Grover and Jane begin their eventually doomed relationship—such a wonderfully poignant exchange.
There is a point where Parker Posey's character, Miami, is exasperated at the seemingly regressive actions of the group, and she eventually screams "you guys all talk alike!" They do in a way, all sharing that same "avoid the future" mentality where trivia and conversational minutiae acts as a real world shield. But all of that smart guy introspection and avoidance would be hollow without some kind of emotional balance, something that Baumbach provides via the in-reverse telling of Grover and Jane's romance, one in which Oliva D'Abo even makes a retainer look sexy.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The director-supervised 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer gets a full paragraph of info on the liner notes, offering up such tidbits as it was "created on Spirit 4k Datacine from a 35mm negative" and that "thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System". I'm sure we all pretty much know by now that Criterion generally comes through with strong transfers, and for a small indie title the treatment here probably looks better than its original fest days. The transfer is clean, though it carries some minor grain throughout. Colors are not overtly vivid (lots of browns and deep reds here), but fleshtones look natural.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix may seem like overkill on an indie, dialogue-driven comedy/drama, but a number of subtle and discrete cues get used to good effect here. Voice quality is clear at all times, but the rear channels carry the occasional off-camera voice, lending some depth to what could have been a very upfront presentation. Background music, such as a They Might Be Giants song heard as distant mass of bass through dormitory walls during a scene between Skippy and Miami really exhibits a very natural shape and texture.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: No cast/crew commentary here, but Criterion has provided plenty of ancillary features. Noah Baumbach (12m:20s) is an anamorphic widescreen 2006 interview with the writer/director tracing the origins of the film, its roots as Fifth Year and how it is based on what he calls the "facsimile of friendship." Conversations (25m:57s) is also from 2006, and has Baumbach talking it up with cast members Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, and Josh Hamilton about their recollections on the project. By comparison, Kicking and Screaming on IFC (08m:41s) is set of 1995 interviews with the cast and crew culled from the time of its New York Film Festival appearance.
Of three deleted scenes (09m:34s) included, the winner is a scene between Jane and Grover, where she admits to having dated Chet. The interplay between the Olivia D'Abo and Josh Hamilton, as in the final version of film, are the emotional centerpiece when all is said and done, and this piece is another strong example of their wonderful chemistry. Each of these scenes opens with a text screen paragraph written by Baumbach explaining what is to follow.
A 2000 short film from Baumbach—Conrad and Butler in "Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation" (30m:03s)—stars Kicking and Screaming's Carlos Jacott and John Lehr, and also features optional onscreen text notes from the director about his grand, well-intended goals for the project.
A foldout booklet has an article written by The Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum going into detail about Baumbach, Kicking and Screaming and the film's place as part of the whole Gen-X era.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsHere's one of those "where is my life going?" films where the pop culture/literary texture of the dialogue flows and weaves with layers and layers of clever, quotable nuances. Who'd have thought a story about self-absorbed grad school smart guys would ultimately have such revelatory warmth?
Another winner from Criterion, but I guess we're used to that by now.
Rich Rosell 2006-08-21