Talking themselves into growing up

March 22, 1996|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

"Kicking and Screaming" is kind of like a college roommate you've never met before. First, its wit attracts you. It's intellectual, but that makes for intelligent conversation. It likes a good beer now and then, so is pretty fun to hang with, but soon enough you realize it likes beer all the time. That's about all it likes. You start wishing it would pick up its laundry and get the heck outta the room and do something, for goodness sake.

The metaphor is apt for "Kicking and Screaming," about a group of friends who have just graduated from college and spent a year slumming around, trying to figure out just where they're supposed to be. It's a sharp, heartfelt, funny movie and worth forgiving for going on a little too long.

Josh Hamilton is at the center of the cast as Grover, a wannabe writer whose biting, self-effacing wit both attracts and alienates his girlfriend, Jane (Olivia d'Abo). She has decided to study writing in Prague (even though, they agree, Prague has become a cliche), and Grover spends a lot of time avoiding the issue of what he should do without her while he seduces undergraduates, smokes and drinks.

The movie begins with graduation and is marked in school time, by semesters and vacations, the chronometer that's built into the heads of the guys who are missing the security blanket of college. They are, indeed, being dragged kicking and screaming into the Real World.

Mostly, they talk, and very funny they are. Their frequent sounding board is bartender and perpetual student Chet (Eric Stoltz), a staple character in any college town and an example of what they all fear becoming.

Director Noah Baumbach's script is artificially self-aware (you have to love it when a freshman tells Grover, "Come on, be romantically self-destructive with me"), but we don't chide Oscar Wilde for being contrived, do we? The words become warmer and more real when the film shifts into sepia tones to take us back to when Grover met Jane; this one, thin story is almost enough plot to maintain momentum. Almost.

Watching people this aimless can be painful (the trap of telling stories about boredom is that they also can become boring), but there's enough going on upstairs here to amuse almost anyone with an ear for bon mots. It also helps if you're twentysomething. "Kicking and Screaming" is that rare thing: a slacker comedy with a brain.

'Kicking and Screaming'

Directed by Noah Baumbach

Starring Josh Hamilton, Olivia d'Abo and Eric Stoltz

Released by Trimark

Rated R (nudity, sexual situations, profanity)

** 1/2

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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