The screenplay desperately wants to be the star of Kicking and Screaming, so it’s a good thing the writing has its moments. Primary among them is an early one, between recently graduated college paramours Grover (Josh Hamilton) and Jane (Olivia d’Abo), both aspiring writers contemplating their immediate future. While exchanging witticisms at a graduation party, Jane pulls out a pen and notebook to capture their conversation, to which Grover replies, “What if I wanted to use this?”
That bit of clever, confessional narcissism would set the tone for much of writer-director Noah Baumbach’s ensuing career (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, While We’re Young). Kicking and Screaming tells the story of four smart, literate buddies who are petrified at the thought of leaving their comfortable collegiate bubble, and in some ways Baumbach’s films continually revisited that same fear. (His refreshing forays into female stories—Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha, Mistress America—have been the exceptions.)
Kicking and Screaming—dominated by the witty, self-referential conversations held by Grover and his three friends (Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, and Jason Wiles)—has its charms, including Eric Stoltz as a lifelong student/bartender/seer. Baumbach also employs some ambitious single takes and sequences of overlapping dialogue, which lend it a whiff of Robert Altman. And although far more studied and mannered, it’s also reminiscent of the reminiscing work of Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!!). Ultimately, Baumbach’s debut shows an eye and ear that would blossom some in later features, if never quite burst that bubble.