Noah Baumbach’s coming-of-age dramedy “Kicking and Screaming” turned 25 this October. The film, unrelated to the more popular Will Ferrell movie of the same title, is a roaringly funny examination of several recent college graduates as they are forced to come to terms with the fact that they have their whole lives ahead of them.
The film captures the essence of a time in life when uncertainty and anxiety rule and the only thing one wants is to be back on solid ground. The film’s main characters, four close friends who lived and graduated together, see themselves pulled in different directions in the months after graduation. One of them re-enrolls in school in order to prolong his life as a student, another keeps intentionally missing flights to Milwaukee, the city where he’d been accepted to grad school, and a third complains about not having a job, yet never tries to find one. The former students attend campus bars, go to student parties and sleep with people much younger than them, all as a kind of denial — a refusal to move on with their lives. The characters squirm and writhe miserably as they’re slowly forced to cope with their lives, all of them grasping desperately for a way to keep from growing up. They’re scared, and even as time drags them forward, they fight to go back.
The film is remarkable because Baumbach manages to capture the emotions and actions of that uncertain time period with grace. He understands the desire to run away from the big world and return to a place of familiar comfort. The film is tinged with melancholy and nostalgia. Baumbach was 26 when he made this film, relatively fresh out of college himself. His own experiences undoubtedly inspired this film and provided him with deep insight into the emotions of his characters and the feel of that time in life.
Despite the film’s serious, almost grim subject matter, it’s not all dour. Most of the film is absolutely hilarious, as sharply written dialogue provides a near-constant source of raucous humor. Even as characters discuss big life changes and their fear and sadness lie visible on their faces, “Kicking and Screaming” is a riot. Baumbach proves his fantastic ability as a writer with this film.
The characters are bitter and pretentious, yet oddly loveable and deeply relatable. Starring Josh Hamilton, Olivia d’Abo, Elliott Gould and Jason Wiles as well as standout performances by Carlos Jacott, Eric Stoltz and Chris Eigeman, the acting is solid. It’s not an easy task to make pretentious, sad and angry young adults into lovable characters, yet the cast manages wonderfully as there’s not one genuinely dislikable person onscreen. That’s a testament, not only to the actors, but to Baumbach’s writing as well.
Overall, “Kicking and Screaming” is an excellent film that should be required viewing for any soon-to-be college graduate. It captures the emotions and anxieties of that uncertain time in one’s life with such grace, all while adeptly turning a group of jerks into relatable characters and providing laugh-a-minute comedy. Baumbach would go on to make many other great films in the 25 years since this one was released, but “Kicking and Screaming” makes for one hell of a debut.