10 January 2007

Kicking and Screaming

Not to be confused with the Will Ferrell vehicle of the same name, Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and the Whale) first feature is actually a funny movie. It’s an ensemble piece, comprised of an assemblage of endearing young actors, most notably Baumbach-and-Whit-Stillman-regular Christopher Eigeman. If Avon made Eigeman statuettes, I’d have one atop my bookcase next to my Fred Astaire; it’s a shame they don’t make this sort of talky ‘90s dramedy anymore (or at least that they didn’t make more of them) because it leaves Mr. Eigeman without the opportunity to do what he does best: play that American with the cultured intelligence and caustic wit of an Englishman.

Four friends, who discuss philosophy, literature, and popular culture with the ease that most Americans discuss gossip and sports, graduate from college but refuse to admit it or act like it. They still live near, hang-out by, and even sometimes eat at the old campus, as well as have sex with the freshmen. As Max (Eigeman) tells one of his friends at the bar: “I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now.” They wildly attempt to postpone growing up and having new experiences – that is, living life. Max even goes so far as to cover a pile of broken glass in his kitchen with an identifying sign rather than sweep it up. Why do today what you could put off till tomorrow, when with luck you’ll die or fall through a wormhole or something and never have to do it anyway? Max declares that he wishes he was already retiring from a lifetime of hard labor, because he doesn’t want to have to actually perform a life’s worth of work, just to remain on permanent vacation.

Baumbach’s filmmaking style, for a first time cineaste that never went to film school, is impressive: his takes are long and his cuts and camera movements are prudent and always appropriate. (Unlike many modern directors, Baumbach is a genuine cinephile and it shows; he’s picked up a couple of tricks from the greats.) His camera often snakes around and picks up conversations similar to the type our protagonists have, suggesting their state of paralyzed senescence is not merely personal but generational. Perhaps even cultural.

The influence of Woody Allen hangs heavily over the film -- in a good way -- from the intellectually witty dialogue and bourgeois self-absorption to the ubiquitous New York references, although the film isn’t set in the city. When Max and Miami (Parker Posey) are sitting in a bar mocking their peers, it immediately recalls Alvy & Annie on a park bench doing the same. Also a clear influence on the film is Whit Stillman's Metropolitan, another '90s movie starring Chris Eigeman about rich college-age kids who don't do anything but talk literature and have sex.

Kicking and Screaming is about dissolving friendships and relationships, and what causes people to get involved with one another in the first place. It’s finely detailed, absorbing and hilarious, though also smug and sappy. I guess I’m just a sucker for that kind of thing.

No comments: