Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kicking and Screaming (1995 film)

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach and from a story by Baumbach and Oliver Berkman, Kicking and Screaming is the story of a group of young people who deal with post-college life as they are unsure of what to do afterwards. The film explores several characters who are on the verge of adulthood as they also deal with life without education and college parties. Starring Josh Hamilton, Carlos Jacott, Chris Eigeman, Olivia d’Abo, Parker Posey, Elliott Gould, and Eric Stoltz. Kicking and Screaming is a delightful yet engaging film from Noah Baumbach.

The film is essentially the story of a group of post-college graduates dealing with life after college as they all figure out what to do while reminiscing their life as students. Leading the pack is Grover (Josh Hamilton) who had just broken up with his girlfriend Jane (Olivia d’Abo) after she decides to take post-graduate study to Prague. Grover spends most of his time with his friends Max (Chris Eigeman), Otis (Carlos Jacott), Skippy (Jason Wiles), and a bartender/student named Chet (Eric Stoltz) as they all go through their own personal odyssey into finding life after school. While Skippy chooses to remain a student with his girlfriend Miami (Parker Posey), Otis becomes unsure of what to do as he eventually takes a job at a video store. Max meanwhile, comments on everything as he is the most unsure of what to do as he and Grover hang around the campus.

Noah Baumbach’s screenplay explores the fear of emerging into adulthood as well as the fear of failure as many of the characters in the film have no idea where they’re going. Throughout the film, Grover reflects on his relationship with Jane as he deals with her phone messages where he would fill his heartbreak by having sex with younger students. Whenever Grover is with his buddies, they do trivia and such while discussing about what to do next in life as Otis is anxious about failure as he forms a friendship with Chet. Chet is a man in his early 30s who often hangs around campus as he is also a bartender where he reveals why he’s still a student in a notable scene between him and Grover. The script also explores the world of relationships as it involves Max dealing with loneliness as he would eventually hook up with an underage student in Kate (Cara Buono).

The script features a unique structure that begins on graduation day and then ends the film during finals. The structure helps unveil how these characters deal with their sense of no direction as it progresses to the point where they begin to learn more about each other and what they really at this stage in life. While there’s a looseness to the story, it still plays to the fact that these people are wandering around just trying to see where they can go or what they need to do to fill their time.

Baumbach’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of the compositions that Baumbach creates as he doesn’t aim for any sense of style. Instead, he chooses to focus on the world of college life as realistic as it is through the perspective of this small ensemble. Not wanting to make something that reveled in sentimentality, Baumbach wanted to make sure that film felt loose in the way he has his actors be present at a location. Whether it’s in the campus, a club, or in the dorms, Baumbach find ways to create some sense of atmosphere in the film where the characters would comment on something or ponder what are they doing here. Baumbach also uses flashback to help tell Grover’s storyline as he pines for Jane by creating scenes where it’s shot in monochrome colors to introduce the flashback. Overall, Baumbach creates a very compelling yet witty film about the world of post-college life.

Cinematographer Steven Bernstein does nice work with the film‘s cinematography to display the colorful world of the college campus along with some stylish lights for some of the film‘s club scenes. Editor J. Kathleen Gibson does excellent work with the editing to create some rhythmic cuts for the conversations including a scene where Kate berates a truck driver. Production designer Dan Whifler and set decorator Gail Bennett do wonderful work with the set pieces such as the house that the guys live in to some of the dorms that Grover visits.

Costume designer Mary Jane Fort does terrific work with the costumes to play out the slacker look of some of the characters along with the more stylish clothes that Miami wears. Sound mixer Ed White does superb work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the parties as well as the scenes in the bar. The film’s music by Phil Marshall is very good for its electronic score to play out Grover’s flashbacks with Jane. The soundtrack features a wide mix of music that includes Pixies, Blondie, Bob Marley, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nick Drake, They Might Be Giants, Alex Chilton, and Freedy Johnston.

The casting by Ellie Kanner is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Perrey Reeves and Marissa Ribisi as a couple of students Grover sleeps with, Dean Cameron as a video store manager, Noah Baumbach as a student who asks a very provocative question, Christopher Reed as the Euro-trash student Friedrich, and Elliott Gould in a small but funny role as Grover’s dad. Cara Buono is a delight as the underage student Kate who deals with Parker Posey is wonderful as the outgoing Miami who deals with Skippy’s slacker lifestyle as well as the changing times of the parties. Olivia d’Abo is excellent as the aspiring writer Jane who leaves Grover as she is seen in flashback as someone who confides in Grover over their love of writing.

Jason Wile is very good as the directionless Skippy who decides to enroll again as away to figure out his life. Eric Stolz is great as the very witty and philosophical bartender/student Chet who revels in his experience as a student while basking in the fact that there’s still a lot of things to learn. Carlos Jacott is amazing as the neurotic Otis who deals with the idea that he might face rejection as well as musing on his insecurities as it’s a very funny performance. Chris Eigeman is incredible as the talkative Max who deals with his own lack of direction and social life as he ponders about what to do. Finally, there’s Josh Hamilton in a remarkable performance as Grover who deals with his break-up with Jane as well as his own lack of direction as he tries to finish his own work as a writer.

***Additional DVD Material Written from 1/6/15-1/16/15***

The 2006 Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a newly restored high-definition digital transfer under the supervision of its writer/director Noah Baumbach with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio remix as the film is given a richer look as well as a broader sound. The special features of the DVD all relates to its production as the first of these supplements is a 12-minute interview with Noah Baumbach. Baumbach discusses the genesis of the script as well as what he wanted to say. He also talked about how it got passed through while discussing how the script would change over the years into the final version of the film. The interview also has Baumbach talking about its production as well as some of the aspects of the marketing which he didn’t like but it did end up helping the film into becoming the cult classic that it is.

The 26-minute conversation between Baumbach and actors Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, and Carlos Jacott has the four talking about the film and the production. Even as they all talk about the characters and the story itself while Baumbach also revealed some of the difficulties that went on in pre-production. The actors talk about their approach to improvisation which added to the film’s comedy as well as their experience in the New York Film Festival in 1995 where it premiered and the film’s difficulty to be marketed to a wide audience. They also talk about its cult and how it managed to endure over the years as the four men are surprised by how good it still is.

One major special feature in the DVD is a 2000 short film entitled Conrad and Butler in “Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation” that stars Carlos Jacott and John Lehr who both wrote the short with Baumbach as it included notes about the short which Baumbach made on digital video in the spring of 2000 as a part of something in the hopes that it would be a TV show and a film that never materialized. It revolves around two guys who had nothing to do as they both take a vacation in the home one of the guys’ grandparents where everything they had planned to do doesn’t happen. It’s a very funny 30-minute short due to the sense of improvisational humor and banter between Jacott and Lehr.

There’s nine minutes of three deleted scenes that is featured where Baumbach explains through text into why they got cut out. The first is a scene between Grover and Jane where Jane revealed she went out with Chet. The second scene involving Grover and Marisa Ribisi’s Charlotte character at a club as it plays to Grover’s aimlessness in sleeping with freshmen college girls as he later meets one of her roommates who is with another guy which becomes awkward. The third and final scene involve Skippy and John Lehr’s Louis character where the latter was supposed to be a bigger character but it got cut as Baumbach created Chet as it plays to Skippy meeting Louis and see what he’s become. The nine-minute brief interview segments with Baumbach and cast members Cara Buono, Chris Eigeman, Olivia d’Abo, Josh Hamilton, and Carlos Jacott for a special on the Independent Film Channel in 1995 basically has everyone talking about the film and their own interpretations of the story as well as their own experiences. The special features also include a theatrical trailer for the film.

The DVD set also features an essay from the famed Chicago-based film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum entitled Reasons for Kicking and Screaming. The essay talks about the film and Baumbach’s approach to humor as well as create something that is real about post-graduate life. Especially as it plays to the world of characters who are overly-intellectual as they would often embark on the realization that they don’t have the answers for everything as well as the fact that they say they’ve read this but haven’t. Rosenbaum talks about the connections Baumbach would have with filmmakers like Whit Stillman and Wes Anderson as the latter is a collaborator of Baumbach. Even as Rosenbaum believes that Baumbach’s greatest influence in the film is Jean Renoir in terms of creating long takes to get the actors comfortable and talk through dialogue easily. It’s a wonderful essay that really gets the film in every way and form.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

Kicking and Screaming is an extraordinary film from Noah Baumbach. Armed with an amazing ensemble cast, witty dialogue, and engaging views on post-college life. It’s a film that revels into the world of pre-adulthood that is filled with great realism and humor as it follows a group of people unsure of where to go. In the end, Kicking and Screaming is an outstanding film from Noah Baumbach.

Noah Baumbach Films: Highball - Mr. Jealousy - The Squid & the Whale - Margot at the Wedding - Greenberg - Frances Ha - While We're Young - Mistress America - De Palma - The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - Marriage Story - (White Noise (2022 film)) - The Auteurs #41: Noah Baumbach

© thevoid99 2012


David said...

LOVE this film,I can still remember the CC cover with quotes all over it.

Alex Withrow said...

It's funny, this is a movie that I did not like at all the first time I saw it, but with age, it got better. Life helped put the movie into perspective. It really is a great film.

Nice review!

thevoid99 said...

@David-Those quotes are gold. It says a lot about post-college life.

@Alex-It's a film that I think has gotten better over the years because it spoke up a lot of truth about the fears of adulthood. No one really knows what they want to do in their early 20s.