Monday, May 16, 2011

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

Not to be confused with Will Ferrell's soccer-themed children's comedy (Um, that one has an ampersand? Hello?), this Gen-X coming of age comedy (the only one of its kind, *snicker, snicker*) has a group of post-collegiates dealing with their newfangled manhood and possible future, and lost, opportunities. Josh Hamilton plays the main character, a relatively wise, grounded lad, who has bid farewell to his longtime college sweetheart who flew off to Prague after graduation. He deals with his loneliness and bouts with self-worth silently as his friends, a particularly literate, yet terminally self-involved group that include a hyper-neurotic man-boy, an acerbic, defeatist wit (and not much else), a beer-swilling, long-haired ignoramus, and a 35 year-old local bartender who, with his decade or so years of college experience, acts out his sage-like role to largely unreceptive ears. The group drinks, banters, and, occasionally, romances, as they slowly take in the knowledge that they are now, finally, forced to put their superficially advanced intellects to the test.

Hamilton is the weak link here, but it is not due to his strengths (or weaknesses) as an actor; his character is basically a non-entity, continually flashing back to the past instead of focusing on the present, and only engaging with his buds in the guise of a snide comment or a self-deprecating quip. His romance with Olivia D'abo's (similarly abandoned by the script) character comes off as overly contrived and cute, rather than organic. It does nothing to advance the narrative, and, seeing where it ends up, only serves to prove certain points it could've easily relayed in the opening 20 or so minutes. With the central plot line being both vague and uninvolving, the film basically lives and dies based on its supporting players, which, in this case, are more than up to the challenge. Each character, while initially coming off as a caricature, has his own set of mannerisms, tendencies, and ideals, which the actors seem to be in tune with. While the pajama-wearing man-boy is the broadest, most easily likable character, his arc is fairly straightforward. More interesting are the consistently detached, objective sad sack who nevertheless prods into his buddies' affairs, the goofy, perennially clueless, drunken boyfriend, and the "wise," older bartender, played by Eric Stoltz in a scene-stealer of a role. Parker Posey and Elliot Gould are also effective in smaller roles, their familiarity failing to overshadow the less-prolific lead actors.

Aside from the lack of any real narrative thrust, there is also the issue of the tone of the film. This was Noah Baumbach's first film as a director, and his idealistic, inexperienced thinking towards direction shows in the mannered, almost stagy performances. Right off the bat, these do not seem like "real" people, but rather mid-90's indie caricatures, complete with dated hairstyles and formerly obscure interests, now commodified by the completionism of the internet. However, Baumbach, moreso here than in his other work, has a cohesive vision for the piece, and the whole film follows the example that he sets right from the getgo, rather than creating a hodgepodge of hyper-mannerred banter and casual, low-key naturalism that would have been grating (as it is in Margot at the Wedding and the worst parts of Greenberg). The dialogue follows suit, not sounding like any one talks in real-life, but rather how THESE characters would talk in these situations.

Recommended for fans of '90s-era growing-up comedies, such as the similar School Daze or Reality Bites, or of Eric Stoltz, who seems to have been in every smaller movie made around this time, yet still was able to make his character in this film memorable, hilarious, and distinctive, even amongst his eclectic career.

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