Movie News & Reviews

Big Awful Friday: 'Kicking and Screaming' not Baumbach's best, but still worthy

Beginnings are always my favorite. Except coming up with them.

Figuring out where to start is like searching for the untouched burger in the bin behind the Wendy's. There is no perfect solution. Just find the least-gross one and go to town.

Starting off a career can't be much different. With most directors' early work, you can tell they were learning on the job. Part of the fun is seeing how they've refined their techniques since then. Sometimes, like with 1995's Kicking and Screaming, their strengths already were on display.

On the eve of college graduation, Josh Hamilton's girlfriend Olivia d'Abo leaves him to study in Prague. Later, he and his overeducated friends are adrift together; some try to reconnect to their college lives while others settle in at video stores and local bars.

I'm sure this sounds as unstoppably engrossing as sifting grains of dirt by color and overall dirtishness. Kicking and Screaming isn't necessarily for everyone. As writer/director Noah Baumbach's first film, it's talky and low-key. It is as loose as old underpants and sometimes the characters speak in ways that make you want to squint your eyes, find a sack and introduce them to an irrigation canal.

But Baumbach clearly rolled hard with this kind of people. Probably was or still is one himself. When Hamilton or his buddy Chris Eigeman talk like characters out of a New Yorker story about apple trees and divorce, or Carlos Jacott starts a two-man book club but can't be bothered to do the reading, it's hard not to think Baumbach's poking some fun at how awkwardly they put their educations to use.

That and its verbal wit ought to help deflate any feelings of pointlessness or pretentiousness. And yeah, what we really mean when we say "wit" is "I laughed so embarrassingly I had to execute my waitstaff," but when it's good, it's good.

Kicking and Screaming isn't so strong in terms of story. While a series of how-they-met flashbacks builds some emotional punch, just about any given scene could have been cut or replaced without screwing up the narrative. Except that one with the 900-foot battling robots. Regardless, it's one of those things where the movie's shambling structure mirrors the postgraduate aimlessness of its characters. And there aren't really any robots.

If you haven't seen any of Baumbach's stuff, it might be better to first check out The Squid and the Whale. But Kicking and Screaming isn't just interesting for what would come next. It's a start that stands on its own.

* Contact Ed Robertson, The Critic of Pure Reason, at edwrobertson@gmail.com

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