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Kicking and Screaming (1995)

November 12th, 2007 · 6 Comments

Kicking and Screaming 1995 VHS cover.jpg   Kicking and Screaming 1995 DVD cover.jpg

In the college town of “Munton,” graduation night is filled with angst. Grover (Josh Hamilton) is a writer whose girlfriend Jane (Olivia d’Abo) is leaving to attend grad school in Prague. Max (Chris Eigeman) was an English major, but now that he’s graduated, realizes he “does nothing.” Otis (Carlos Jacott) is an oaf who’s supposed to go to grad school, but would rather wear pajama tops and hang out, while Skippy (Jason Wiles) decides to stay as well, driving his girlfriend Miami (Parker Posey) to cheat on him.

Three months later, the four friends are still hanging around campus. Max wishes they were either going off to war, or retiring. Otis gets a second interview at Video Planet, where his boss asks him who his influences are. Skippy suggests they name themselves something, something tough (“What do you think about, Cougars?).” Grover tortures himself by refusing to listen to a message from Jane. He distracts himself by sleeping with freshmen.

In flashbacks, we find out that Grover met Jane when she criticized his story in creative writing class. She approached him at a coffee shop and issued a retort for something he said in class 14 hours ago. Back in the present, Max gets involved with a 17-year-old townie cafeteria worker named Kate (Cara Buono), while his buddies try to avoid the fate of Chet (Eric Stoltz), a bartender who just started his eleventh year of college.

Kicking and Screaming 1995 Josh Hamilton Olivia dAbo pic 1.jpg

Production history 
In 1991, Noah Baumbach – who had written and directed plays as a student at Vassar – had two ideas for a movie. One was to fictionalize the close friendship he’d shared with three of his high school buddies. The other was about people who graduate college and never leave. Baumbach and his friend Oliver “Bo” Berkman started taking notes on all the things they liked or thought were funny.

Baumbach moved to Chicago, where he continued to develop the script, improvising scenes with Carlos Jacott. They had no idea whether a major studio would be interested, and entertained the idea of going back to Vassar to shoot the movie with people they knew. With two housemates from college – Jason Blum and Jeremy Kramer – Baumbach formed a limited partnership and began pitching his script – titled Fifth Year – to financiers.

Mini-studio Trimark Pictures was interested, but had two conditions. They wanted the film shot in L.A., and they wanted to market it around Eric Stoltz. Baumbach didn’t really have a role Stoltz could play, so he wrote the character of Chet over a weekend and faxed the script to the actor in Scotland, where he was shooting Rob Roy. Within 24 hours, Stoltz agreed to appear in the film.

KIcking and Screaming 1995 Parker Posey pic 2.jpg

Shot in 24 days on a budget of $1.3 million – with Occidental College in Eagle Rock standing in for Baumbach’s alma mater – Kicking and Screaming lacked the promotional punch to be seen by a wide audience, grossing barely $700,000 at the box office. Baumbach’s debut was praised by critics for its intelligent, sophisticated screenplay, and became something of a cult classic for Generation X.

Slacker cinema was already its own subgenre by the time this film arrived. Instead of reciting episodes of Good Times or debating “Like A Virgin,” Baumbach’s slackers quiz each other on the titles of Friday the 13th movies. Better than expected if you’ve never heard of it, not as great as those who love it would like to believe, Kicking and Screaming may still be one of the key films of the 1990s.

The weakness of the movie is it meanders and lacks a plot. The strength of the movie is it meanders and lacks a plot. The characters don’t amount to much of anything, but that’s sort of the point. The script is greased with hilarious one liners, while Baumbach has a touch for exposing the frailties of relationships. His filmmaking is totally on the cheap – the music here is especially bland – but Baumbach cast all the right people, and says something about his generation that doesn’t feel stereotypical, but genuine.

Kicking and Screaming 1995 Cara Buono Chris Eigeman pic 3.jpg

Teddy Banks at Not Coming to a Theater Near You writes, “It is one of those movies that is less about its characters than their condition. Like Diner, American Graffiti, and The Big Chill before it, the driving force of the picture is nostalgia; Baumbach is less interested in telling a story than in capturing an era.”

Kicking and Screaming is equal parts irritating and engaging. For a debut film, it’s pretty impressive work,” writes Christopher Long at DVD Town.

Kerry Birmingham at DVD Verdict writes, “While I praise the film’s complete lack of a story, there’s every chance a viewer will sit down to watch this and about halfway through ask, ‘What is this movie about?’ Its self-involved characters and rampant disregard for coherent plotting will be a turn-off even if one is predisposed to like the dry wit and identify with the post-collegiate malaise.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Cult favorite · Father/son relationship · Unconventional romance

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Adam Ross // Nov 13, 2007 at 7:17 am

    I heard a lot about this movie as well and was surprised by how funny it was. I love the Criterion DVD, the “Conrad and Butler” short is absolutely hilarious.

  • 2 Moviezzz // Nov 13, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Well, judging by my blog graphic, you can probably guess this is a favorite of mine. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it came out right when I got out of college, and was the same age as the characters in it. So, I identified with it quite a bit.

    And it only made $700,000 at the box office? Yikes. I saw it theatrically, so I was part of that. It was poorly marketed by Trimark, only opening at a little run down multiplex theatre in my area that doesn’t even exist anymore.

    But, it still is one of my favorites. I quote it a bit too much.

  • 3 Piper // Nov 16, 2007 at 6:44 am


    I have only been able to get through about 30 minutes of this movie before turning it off in a fit or rage. There’s too much talky talky and if you’re going to have that, your characters better be people we like and I didn’t find that. I found the characters to be whiny. And there was a time when I would have liked this and thought it profound, but that time has passed.

    But I own the movie, so I will give it a second shot based on your review.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // Nov 16, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Adam: I watched everything on the Criterion DVD except for Conrad and Butler. I’m going to see if I can find it on Youtube. Thanks!

    Moviezzz: Trimark is responsible for the Leprechaun franchise, so that tells you what their distribution strategy was like. I enjoyed Kicking and Screaming much more at age 34 than I did at age 22, oddly, and can easily understand why you picked it as the header image on your site.

    Pat: This movie is surprisingly good and probably does belong on a list of culturally significant films of the ’90s, but your criticisms are valid. This movie is not very profound; Baumbach doesn’t do profound. But if you reset your expectations to the Slacker, Reality Bites or debut film level, you might really enjoy it.

  • 5 Piper // Nov 18, 2007 at 7:53 am


    Well said. I am adjusting as we speak and I will view again soon.

  • 6 Nostalgic for the '90's // Sep 8, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I first saw “Kicking & Screaming” a while back -extremely good movie, and I also could definitely relate to this since I myself graduated college in the mid ’90’s. The feelings of uncertainty/listlessness as to what to do after graduation were spot-on in this film. The E. Stoltz character was also spot-on, since I knew of “professional students” like this in school who didn’t want to graduate, and ended up taking classes & changing majors indefinitely. And, the song “Bad Reputation” by F. Johnston (which played over the ending credits) took me right back to the early/mid-’90’s time period, since I was a big fan of this song & other alternative/progressive-type music back when I was in college; IMHO this song fits perfectly at the end of the film.

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