School’s out forever! A ‘Kicking and Screaming’ review

Ive seen Kicking and Screaming pop up on my sister’s Netflix account for some time now, but I always thought it was that Will Ferrell movie from 2005. My mom rented it from Blockbuster (remember that?) when we were 14 or 15 and we watched it during one of our requisite family nights. To my recollection there was no egregious sex scene to make watching the film in front of my parents and then seven-year-old brother especially difficult. And it wasn’t like Tyler Perry get-me-out-of-this-nightmare awful. So I guess that’s  a recommendation…

Anyway, I didn’t realize that Kicking & Screaming and Kicking and Screaming are two different movies. Kicking and Screaming is the film debut of Noah Baumbach, director of The Squid and the Whale, a movie that really affected me, even though my family is nothing like his. The Squid and the Whale is one of those films I might actually have to chalk up some money and rent on Amazon Prime, because it was that good. Jeff Daniels, man! Jesse Eisenberg–what tenacity the man has to play someone with such misplaced arrogance.  That the film was largely autobiographical made me feel a strange sort of pity for Baumbach.

Anyway, I’m not sure what prompted me to watch Kicking and Screaming instead of doing my homework last week, but I did and I’m glad I did. Like Reality Bites, it’s one of those Generation X films that has special resonance now that I am also 21 and on the verge of temporary employment, cheap apartments and the like.

The first thing you’ll realize upon watching this film is that the ’90s were still doing that cast-people-that-are-much-older-than-they-are -supposed-to-be  thing. I mean Josh Hamilton, who was 26 playing a 22 year old, looked like he was about 30. Or maybe, I’m just comparing the short, anemic-looking dudes at the U of C to the fine specimen at this fictional liberal arts school. It’s not even like any of them are that studly (well Josh Hamilton is quite dreamy, his beautiful blank face is all hopeful dreams and naivete and stuff), but I guess it’s sort of like the shock of walking down Michigan Avenue and remembering how tall guys can be. How tall and well-built and strong-looking. Not even attractive, just strong and solid like they actually eat and go outside.

The film is about four college dudes who have just graduated. Josh Hamilton plays Grover (yes, he has the same name as our 22nd president), a moody, wanna-be novelist whose girlfriend Jane (played by the fetching Olivia d’Abo, even if she does have a nasty habit of taking out her retainer with frightening frequency) essentially breaks up with him at their graduation party. She’s off to Czechoslovakia to study the greats. Their conversations about writing are funny. I’m convinced that it’s actually impossible to make a film about the writing life that doesn’t sound ridiculously pretentious. Screenwriters, in an interesting melange of wish fulfillment and insecurity, always make their writers troubled geniuses. But they’re only talented because everyone in the film keeps telling us they are. The scene in Grover’s creative writing workshop is consequently unintentionally hilarious. Or maybe it is intentional. I don’t know.

Anway, Grover is good friends with Max (Chris Eigenman), a bitter sarcastic unemployed person who insults everyone else to mask his own insecurity. He is definitely a postcollegiate archetype. Rounding out the gang is Otis (Carlos Jacott), an overly nervous, clumsy maladroit and Skippy (Lordy lordy, these names) who’s played by Jason Wiles and is the dumb blonde of the group. Making an appearance is Parker Posey, the ’90s Greta Gerwig at far as indie film ubiquity goes. Posey still has that trademark forced smile and bent nose. She’s supposed to be a junior in college but she sounds and looks older. Eric Stolz, who I guess is the most famous member of the crew, plays Chet, a perennial student. Like he literally has been in undergrad for ten years.

Just like a good slacker film should, the characters don’t do much of anything. They go to crappy bars and play stupid trivia games and sleep with college freshman. They all end up near or around their old college grounds for a good chunk of the year. They’re in stasis, confused, unsure, scared. All familiar feelings for anyone about to graduate in 2012. The last scene of the movie is overwrought, but it only highlights Baumbach’s own youth (he was 25) when making this film.

It’s a fine debut.

Of course, maybe I’m just extremely biased. The characters in this film remind me of people I should know but I don’t know yet. I’m positive I’ll meet them in the next month or two though. For now, they’re just archetypes in my head, portrayed honestly in good-bad indie movies (The Romantics, anyone?) and in certain contemporary literary novels. They’re too serious, too self-assured even as they’re realizing that the world is a big place that doesn’t particularly care about the fact that they won the fiction prize at a tiny college in New England. They’re obliviously white and privileged, but instead of garnering my contempt and maybe, if I’m honest, my strange, illogical envy though their baby boomer parents inflicted irreparable damage on their psyches, I commiserate with them. They no longer earn my ire or scorn. I’ll credit Kicking and Screaming for that.

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