Kicking and Screaming (1996): Baumbach Channels Woody Allen

Noah Baumbach’s precocious style and attractive cast are most suited for Kicking and Screaming , his take on guys who just can’t let go of college and get on with their lives, an issue also addressed in Beautiful Girls and Swingers.

Mixing the neurotic drive of Woody Allen with the urbane cleverness of Whit Stillman, Kicking and Screaming strikes a cheerful note.

Chris Eigeman provides the link to Stillman’s work, having appeared in Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco. Though familiar, Kicking and Screaming benefits from the director’s keen recollection of what it’s like to be smart, promising and adrift.

Making his debut at 25, the Brooklyn born director (whose mother is film critic Georgia Brown), previously worked as a messenger at the New Yorker.

Written with dexterity (and financed for $1.3 million), this satire examines the impact of changing times and shifting notions of work and friendship on bright, hopelessly neurotic youngsters.

Kicking and Screaming is a comedy of manners about four college graduates, and the crowded knot of girlfriends, housemates and assorted hangers on who make up their surrogate extended family in a university town.

Once again, the film revisits the alienating aftermath of college. When first met at their graduation party, the quartet don’t seem to have a clue about life after college, clinging with pathos to what’s familiar and comfy–their past. The graduates plunge into uncertainty because of changes in goals and times. As always, the most poignant remarks are made by women.

Though well-spoken and erudite, the foursome not only talk alike, but behave as if they were still in school. It takes time to distinguish Grover (Josh Hamilton) from Max (Chris Eigeman), Skippy (Jason Wiles) and Otis (Carlos Jacott), because they resemble each other physically.

Similarly to The Darien Gap, in this film, the father figure is prominent, though Grover’s father (Elliott Gould) is as open and friendly as his son is self-absorbed.

Baumbach doesn’t try to work up sympathy for his characters, who spend their time at a local bar, presided over by Chet (Eric Stoltz), a permanent student epitomizing the protracted limbo of self-inflicted sorrow and misery; only Otis finds a job, at a video store. Most of the time, they worry about the future, obsess over the past and trade wisecracks. The film is punctuated with flashbacks of Grover’s longing memories of Jane (Olivia d’Abo), a radiant woman he let go, and onscreen announcements like “Spring Break.”

The other women are Miami (Parker Posey), who has outgrown Skippy, and a vivacious adolescent (Cara Buono). All three are more grown up than the men, which is one of the film’s point.

Critics who dismissed the film as a minor or derivative comedy drew unfavorable comparisons with Kevin Smith’s rude and funny Clerks and the TV series “Friends.”