Kicking and Screaming (Spine #349) is the feature film debut from American writer and director Noah Baumbach, and was originally released in 1995. It received its Criterion release on DVD on August 21, 2006. Noah Baumbach has one other film included in The Criterion Collection: Frances Ha (Spine #681), an equally impressive independent film on youth in revolt. In addition, the Wes Anderson features The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Spine #300) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (Spine #700) are both projects to which Baumbach is accredited as a screenwriter.
Grover (Josh Hamilton) is a recent graduate of a characteristically capricious, small town liberal arts college, whose seemingly perpetual state of arrested development has his ex-girlfriend Jane (Olivia d’Abo) leaving him for Prague, much to Grover’s emotional consternation and personal chagrin. Instead of going with her, he remains in the college town to which he no longer belongs, surrounded by a host of liberally educated miscreants and scallywags, all of whom are equally unwilling to leave the world of dorm room ennui very far behind.
Noah Baumbach’s cinematic debut is every bit an encapsulation of the creative worlds that he would soon become so well known for constructing, whether it be with Wes Anderson or on his own. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Squid and the Whale are both equally indebted to the intellectualism lampooned in this his first, and perhaps greatest, film.
Originally penned with the more descriptively appropriate moniker The Fifth Year, Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming is one of the most brutal depictions of post-graduation angst and despair. Its characters are all sympathetically drawn and empathetically performed by a cast of young stars just coming into the height of their prowess as individual performers. In short, Max (Chris Eigeman) is possessed of a deeply felt cynicism offset by the lacerating effects of self-deprecation, Otis (Carlos Jacott) plays a delightfully ineffectual and innocent simpleton, and Chet (Eric Stoltz) is the cautionary tale on the indulgence of entitlement that is the unfortunate by product of a college education.
In addition, there are the equally stunning performances from its cast of leading women, including Jane (Olivia d’Abo) as Grover’s intimately estranged girlfriend, Miami (Parker Posey) as the autonomous adult temporarily seated at a table of emotionally unstable children, and Kate (Cara Buono) as the earthy townie whose sultry displays of social indiscretion provide for the ideal antidote to Baumbach’s stuffy band of the socially conscious.
This DVD release, sporting cleverly designed cover art and an inside sleeve featuring some of the film’s most quotable one-liners and quips in the format of a crossword puzzle, is one of the most impressive inclusions in the Criterion Collection. Starting with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s stellar essay, this DVD is stuffed with bonus material sure to please the Baumbach enthusiast, most notably including archival interviews with the cast originally broadcast on IFC in 1995, new video interviews and conversations compiled by Criterion upon the DVD release of the film, as well as a quintessentially twee short, entitled Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation, directed by Baumbach from 2000, and starring Kicking and Screaming cast members Carlos Jacott and John Lehr.
Noah Baumbach’s first film is fantastically indispensible. The director’s decided fondness for the social intelligentsia is still as relevant today as it was twenty years ago, even if it won’t win any new fans due to its conspicuous navel-gazing and lack of ethnic diversity, sad white people characteristically populating a canvas set within the world of cut and dry undergraduate inertia.
Criterion Grade: A
Film Grade: A-