Kicking and Screaming (1995) — Graduated and staying put

“Come on. Be romantically self-destructive with me.”

Justin’s rating: It should be legal to provide a comeback 14 hours after someone said it

Justin’s review: It’s an odd Justin fact that while most of my college class graduated in ’98, I walked in ’99. Officially this was to allow me the extra time to finish a second major, but unofficially? I didn’t want to leave. College was the first place that I ever felt like I could be myself, the first time I ever had friends all around me, and it was a life I wanted to hold on to as long as I could. That reluctance cost me a pretty penny, let me tell you.

But it helps me relate to the Gen X slackers of Kicking and Screaming, who find themselves stuck to the college scene even after their academic life is over. If they move on, they’ll have to get real jobs and real relationships and real maturity. If they stay? Maybe they can keep the ambrosia of college life bottled for a little while longer.

On the day of graduation, Grover’s writer girlfriend Jane heads off to Prague, but he decides it’s better to hang back with his best buds. This procrastinating group includes snobby Max, freakazoid Otis, professional student Chet, couch potato Skippy, 16-year-old Kate, and sarcastic Miami. Fear and uncertainty hold them back from moving forward, but all of them know that day’s going to come sooner or later. In the meanwhile, they’ll reminisce via flashbacks, have numerous witty conversations, and use low-wage jobs and underage girlfriends as a reason to drag their feet on life.

Unlike many other Gen X college flicks I’ve watched, Kicking and Screaming’s crew is almost insufferably intellectual and backpattingly clever. They have rapid-fire conversations that are only possible if a writer spent a week writing each one and the actors furiously studying their paragraphs under the table. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes it screams “THE WRITER KNOWS BIG WORDS.” Coin toss in any situation to see how it goes.

Someone told me that this was one of their favorite “unknown” films, and I can see why. It’s a unique lens on college to look at it from the end, with nostalgia, realism, and cynicism wrestling for supremacy. The gang goes through the motions — partying, dating, returning to class, eating at the cafeteria, having pseudo-intellectual debates, arguing about movie trivia — but you can tell their hearts aren’t quite in it any more. They’ve outgrown it but won’t admit it.

It may take a bit, but the guys (and gals) eventually start taking steps to escape the orbit of their collegiate experience. For Grover, it’s finally admitting that he deeply loves Jane and will choose her over his own arrested development.

It’s certainly not the best-looking or best-flowing film of its ilk, but Kicking and Screaming was a surprising good time in a very ’90s way — bittersweet, sweet, and bitter all in one.

Didja notice?

  • “I was going to wear my goatee tonight, wouldn’t that have been embarrassing!”
  • You can wear pajama tops with ties
  • One graduation had a horse
  • “This is useless. We just have to walk away like mothers at a nursery school.”
  • The trusty fan
  • You have to watch detergent commercials to the very end
  • The dark side of nose rings
  • The LARPers
  • Analyzing strangers at the bar
  • So many answering machines in this film
  • Cringy book club: “It was violently arousing.”
  • It’s a video rental store! I know those!
  • “You’ve got enough friends. A new one is bad.”
  • Kate is adorable
  • “I cheated on you” messages are better with frowny faces
  • “This shouldn’t be done. This guy would rather be bow hunting.”
  • “I’ve inherited a tragedy.”
  • Name all of the Friday the 13th movies
  • “We stay together out of fear. That’s all we know.”

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