"I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday," Chris Eigeman snaps in Kicking And Screaming. "I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now." It's a funny, seemingly throwaway bit in a movie that, taken apart, consists of little more than seemingly throwaway bits: circular conversations about ancient pop culture, fleeting moments of sexual awkwardness, brief realizations of failure, and—once in a while—decisions to take action (which usually leads nowhere). The 1995 comedy by writer-director Noah Baumbach follows four recent college graduates for whom a challenge to list movies about monkeys has become a more meaningful, or at least more tangible, goal than figuring out what to do next.
While films like Reality Bites made an overt mission of capturing Gen-X anxiety, Kicking And Screaming gets the job done much more quietly and effectively with a few aimless characters instead of grand statements: Reflective would-be writer Josh Hamilton pines for a girlfriend who's left for the "overrated" Prague; Carlos Jacott chooses video-store clerkdom over grad school in Milwaukee (citing adapting to a new time zone as a reason to stay); Jason Wiles simply re-enrolls to catch the classes he missed; Eigeman works crossword puzzles. Apart, they're adrift. Together, they have rapport, alcohol, and the pursuit of freshmen women.
It's something, but it's clearly not enough, and while Baumbach makes the lifestyle of his charming losers look appealing, he never quite makes it seductive. For every scene of dark-witted bonhomie, there's a telling moment of muted panic, as when Eigeman berates his reflection with the words, "You do nothing."
Lost in theaters but a cult hit on video, Kicking And Screaming has dimmed a bit with the passing of time. The ragtag structure never really allows it to build any momentum, and the gulf between its arch dialogue and earnest emotions becomes more evident with each viewing. But while the film doesn't always find a way to bridge that gulf, it at least keeps a rooting interest in not letting the characters fall into it. It's an unfailingly clever film about how cleverness will only get you so far.
Key features: New interviews with Baumbach and the cast, deleted scenes, a 2000 short.