Review: Kicking and Screaming

Directed by Noah Baumbach and co-written with Bo Berkman, the directorial debut from the Oscar-nominated follows a bunch of guys who hang around their college for months after graduation, continuing a life much like the one before graduation. Starring: Josh Hamilton, Eric Stoltz, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, Jason Wiles, Olivia d’Abo, Elliott Gould, Cara Buono, Samuel Gould and Parker Posey.

Not to be confused with the 2005 Will Ferrell starrer with an over-competitive children’s football coach; this is your indie, college romantic drama, dealing with hesitance to go into the real world, a fear of failure and a reluctance to stray from close friendships and college romances. It’s quite easy to see the differences between this film and Baumbach’s other works, lacking that familiar confidence and biting tone, it has brief glimpses of the skills he’s honed over the years, that are mere seedlings in this case. It also moves at a much slower pace, despite his films always being character driven dramas, they tend to keep things moving in a more satisfying or gripping manner than they do here.

A decision that hindered its pace was to have flashbacks exploring the relationship between Grover (Hamilton) and Jane (d’Abo), they’re extremely sentimental and may as well be under an actual rose-coloured lens, they add very little as the romance itself is on the contrived side rather than convincing. The actors have a friendly banter or competitive style chemistry more than anything that would be considered romantic. Baumbach has had a lot of success with using a non-linear timeline but here it feels too forced, there’s no smooth transitions, they do add context but in a superfluous way, rather than his other films where they add to the emotional depth of scenes. This is further weakened when it’s revealed that their relationship was actually only a few months, when the tone they take implies much longer, although it’s a topic that’s expressly subjective to each viewer.

The film starts out well, the dialogue is sharper than in its latter moments and there’s a much more collective experience atmosphere, which eventually dissipates into individual stories. It’s a shame that the earlier tone doesn’t continue for its entirety, it changes into something cloying which forgets about most of its other characters and gives them minimal scenes to signify they’re still involved, even when the script implies the opposite. Given that the film is intended to follow the entire group, it spends too much time exploring Grover and Jane’s past relationship, it could have influenced the story without needing to have flashbacks which feel repetitive and slow down the film. A minimal amount of comedy does come through but it does it so quietly and infrequently making it easy to miss, it does feel like an attribute they could have ran with to give the film itself more of a personality. It is interesting that they touch upon the sub-culture of video-store workers in the 90’s, their obsession with film and distaste for anyone without a similar knowledge, something akin to film Twitter in 2020, especially with the obscure categories that the shop has, a good example of that occasional comedy.

The general intention feels like Reality Bites but if the characters had attended a less liberal arts style college, but it doesn’t offer the youthful energy that Stiller’s does, it’s surprisingly drab for a film about guys in their early twenties. There are a couple of individual characteristics provided to each character but none of them have very strong personalities, there’s no real, tangible inclusions to tell you what they really want or who they are. Unsurprisingly that feeds into the impression of the actors’ performances, they’re forgettable, there’s nothing to ground or separate them.

Kicking and Screaming starts out with a genuine intent to provide a view into the post-university existence but slowly switches gears into focusing on romance in a way that’s over-sentimental and muddles its way to the end. There are glimpses of the attributes that have turned Baumbach into a lauded director, he may not have started out on as strong footing as some of his contemporaries but he clearly learnt from each experience and has improved with every feature. Sadly, there isn’t a lot to stand this film out from the crowd and it ends on an unsatisfying and unresolved note, it’s an example of his sincere talent but an average debut.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

Available on Netflix now!

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