Kicking and Screaming (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A group of college pals can't figure out what to do with their lives when they graduate. After four years of hanging out with their friends, discussing the philosophy of life, and making fun of the less sophisticated, they are unwilling to leave their warm womb to enter the cold world. So they try to cope and they talk, and talk and talk ...

I have often said that Quentin Tarantino is the most-imitated man in the past decade or so, but I may be wrong. If I give some thought to it, I think I can make a better case for Jerry Seinfeld. In fact, even Tarantino himself is something of a Seinfeld impersonator. What I mean is that Seinfeld seems to have elevated the art of talking about nothing - musing about Superman or airline peanuts - into a valid art form. Tarantino himself uses this tactic in Pulp Fiction, in a context which makes it seem fresh, since it is not Jerry and his nerdy pals but two hit men who are babbling about hamburgers.

Tarantino wasn't the only guy who was thinking in 1994 that interesting small talk could make for good cinema. Pulp Fiction came out the same time as Kevin Smith's Clerks and Whit Stillman's Barcelona. Clerks and Barcelona are basically long Seinfeld episodes, films about nothing, with bright and discontented but trivial people babbling along so tirelessly and so insignificantly that Eric Rohmer would be tempted to "shush" them.  Kicking and Screaming came one year after those three. Although Kicking and Screaming was written by Noah Brumbach, a man 17 years younger than Whit Stillman, it seems to me to have about the same characters as Barcelona which, in turn, also seems to have the same characters as Stillman's The Last Days of Disco (1998) and Brumbach's Highball (1997).  If I'm not mistaken, these four movies even have some of the same actors playing the same characters, albeit with different names. I think one of the actors plays the same character (more or less) in all four films!

Of course it doesn't really matter which actor plays which character because they all sound alike. Brumbach even addresses that directly by having two different people comment "you guys all talk alike." If you stop and think about it, that's a pretty clever screenwriting trick. It sort of co-opts the film critics.

Of course, this type of film doesn't really derive its appeal from sharp character differentiation or complex plotting. The value of dialogue-based movies like this resides in their ability to make the small talk interesting and fun to listen to. After all, we know the talk isn't going to be profound, so it had better be witty and evocative. I'd say that Kicking and Screaming is moderately successful. A few lines are brilliant. One character won't leave the house with his friends until he sees if a TV character can remove a stain. His friends are amazed to see that he's watching not a murder mystery, but a detergent commercial. That shows you the general level of the humor.

Despite its selection by The Criterion Collection and some sincere admirers, Kicking is rated a weak C+ by Yahoo voters. (That's quite low on their softball scale. Deuce Bigalow is a B-.) It's rated a solid but uninspiring 6.7 at IMDb, and the IMDb top voters score it even lower than that. People outside the USA score it lowest of all at IMDb - below 6.0, which is in "B" movie territory. In other words, it is a film which speaks directly only to those who come from a certain time and place. It's one of those American-generation-specific films, like Carnal Knowledge. If you are an American who graduated from college in the early 90s or thereabouts, you may well find that the film encapsulates your experiences and speaks to you directly. The farther you get from that demographic group, the more the film will seem like a bunch of lightweight babbling from the Future Losers of America.



The usually-dependable Criterion Collection really misfired on this one. Not only did they select a movie of no special importance or merit, but they did a rather poor job on the DVD transfer, which is consistently dark and hazy.

  • Video interview with Noah Baumbach
  • Video conversations with Baumbach and cast members Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, and Carlos Jacott
  • Deleted scenes
  • Noah Baumbach's 2000 short film Conrad and Butler in "Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation" featuring Kicking and Screaming cast members Carlos Jacott and John Lehr
  • Brief 1995 interviews with Baumbach and the cast, originally broadcast on IFC
  • Trailer
  • Foldout booklet with an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum


Perrey Reeves does a long, clear, and well-written topless scene.

Kaela Dobkin shows her breasts in one scene in the film (well, once scene plus a few extra frames far from the camera) . She is also seen topless in the deleted material.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus:  a bit below three out of four stars. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It never reached more than 26 theaters. Total was gross less than a million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is just a C on our scale. Not a bad movie, and one which should spark some nostalgia if you graduated from college in the early 90s, but with only 33% positive reviews from the top critics, a C+ from Yahoo voters, and a mid-level IMDb score of 6.7, it's a surprising Criterion selection.

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