The Tuesday Zone: A Disaffected College Student Writing About Disaffected College Grads


Hi, folks.  After last week’s crazy shenanigans (which consisted of a nice column shakeup with Mindless Action Mondays), we are back to serious business.  We will kick off our serious business with a look at an indie film that one of my professors recommended to me.  This week’s serious business will mostly focus on my attempt to make heads or tails of this movie because, like many indie movies, it has a strange rhythm that can be read as intriguing and innovative or lazy and boring.  I’m not terribly certain which it is yet.

Kicking and Screaming (1995) [N.B. This is not the Will Ferrell soccer movie.]

Universal Pictures

Plot: Grover, Otis, Max, and Skippy are recent college grads who are entirely uninterested in moving on to the next part of their lives.  Otis can’t brave the idea of moving over one timezone to go to grad school in Milwaukee, Grover can’t accept the idea that his girlfriend would rather study in Prague than move to Brooklyn, Skippy has a girlfriend who’s still in college, and Max is a curmudgeonly old man trapped in a college graduate’s body.  They all sit around and do nothing whilst sharing witticisms in order to pass the time as they await having to enter the scary world of adulthood.

I’m not actually terribly certain that anything happens in this movie besides these guys sitting around and talking, so I suppose I’ll start with that.  I admit that I had to watch this movie in segments, because for the first twenty to thirty minutes you wonder, “What the hell is going on here?  What’s the story?  Where is the plot going?”  Very quickly though, you realize that the movie is mimicking where these guys are in their lives.  They are all disaffected college graduates who are currently directionless, and so director/writer Noah Baumbach mimics that with the actual structure of the movie.

This is a style that could only really work in indie cinema, and anyone who has seen a Jim Jarmusch movie might know the general air of a story unfolding by not unfolding (see: Stranger Than ParadiseLimits of Control).  Thus, be warned, that this is what I would consider a movie for movie people, as it will likely not interest those looking for an overarching plot, big conflict, resolution, etc.  In a way, this movie is very skillfully made by virtue of how it so accurately captures the aimless lives the characters are living.  Whether the effectiveness of that technique is enough to keep you engaged for the runtime is really on you.

It also depends on your "90s Fashion & Style" tolerance.

Universal Pictures
It also depends on your “90s Fashion & Style” tolerance.

As a college kid who doesn’t necessarily know where he wants to go in life, I found that the characters were relatable in that sense.  But I think that they can appeal to all people who have that uncertainty, that apprehension to change up what they’re used to.  It’s a fairly universal feeling, so in that way this movie appeals to a slightly broader audience.  The characters in Kicking and Screaming are so good at putting off their futures that we wonder whether they consider them at all.  Baumbach manages to convey their anxieties very slowly, but he does do it.

This movie uses a lot of less-than-obvious techniques to intimate the emotions of the characters, which they hide deep inside themselves.  For example, all the title cards that place the time of upcoming scenes are based on college scheduling: Fall Semester, Finals, etc.  These guys are still defining themselves by their pasts.  Moreover, Baumbach strategically places flashbacks of Grover and his girlfriend, Jane, from when they first met. We realize that these are his memories, and he is so hung up on the past and what he had, that he can’t look toward the future.  In thinking about Jane, he’s losing Jane, because he’s making no effort in the present to stay with her.  This movie shows him being physically incapable of getting to the next stage.

All the while looking like a 90s, upper-middle class caricature.

Universal Pictures
All the while looking like a 90s, upper-middle class caricature.

With moments like this, we see that the four main guys are not entirely purposeless and apathetic, but emotionally kicking and screaming (that’s the name of the movie!) behind their glazed-over eyes.  I think that this movie might be about how we trap ourselves with excuses and our own flaws in such a way that–unless we make the right effort–will cripple us.

Kicking and Screaming is, to me, a perfect representative of how a movie can be well-made and successful in its attempt, but not necessarily enjoyable.  A large part of the humor depends on how much we laugh at the characters’ silly games and traps they set for themselves (including quizzes like: “Name x movies that feature this bizarre feature”), and if you don’t like these characters or connect with them,, then you’ll be left cold.  I found it interesting but had to break it up; it’s a movie that only now am I appreciating, and I might adore it on a second viewing. But I can’t say it had enough to keep my attention, even if it piqued my interest as someone who studies how movies and storytelling work.

This boils down to an issue in many movies that are considered artistic, or indie, or whatever: can they communicate a message while also entertaining the audience?  For many people, Kicking and Screaming deserves a resounding yes.  I’m still sitting here though, uncertain as to whether or not I want to take the next step to say this movie is great.  There are a lot more scenes I could discuss in detail, and a lot of dialogue, but perhaps analysis isn’t the right way to tackle this movie.  Maybe, when you’re in an aimless mood, you just need to sit down and absorb it.  If anyone tries that, please let me know the results.

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