I remember talking to someone online about Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming, and being unsurprised that they didn’t like it. Like most of Baumbach’s movies, the protagonists are selfish and self-centered, the plot is aimless, and the women often feel like miraculous creatures for their quirky men to earn with small tokens of maturity.
I was more surprised, though, to hear why he didn’t like it. He quoted a line — “I’m quoting myself here, but if Plato is like a fine red wine, then Aristotle is like a dry martini” — as evidence that we were supposed to find the listless recent college grad protagonists of Kicking and Screaming charming.
Over the years I’ve spent watching Kicking (I first discovered it in the early days of my Criterion obsession at around 16 — Lord knows what I got from it then — and have treated it as a bit of an end-of-the-year tradition) I had never considered that anyone could think we were supposed to think this was a clever line. Eric Stoltz’s Chet, the insufferable bartender who gives it to a bored patron barely paying attention, is so irritating even the other characters can’t stand him. How could anyone think we were supposed to find the line charming?
But while whoever I was talking to is wrong about the line in particular, he did get to the heart of why Kicking and Screaming, Baumbach’s first, is a peculiar one. For all its needling mockery of the recently graduated — almost every detail of which feels perfect, like a broken cup swept into a pile and covered with a piece of paper that says BROKEN GLASS — it is also soddenly sincere in parts. Baumbach might try to undercut Josh Hamilton’s achingly sincere monologue to an airport attendant about today “being the day that he goes” with a final, weak joke, but by the end it’s clear that he as a writer has a lot more empathy for his confused stars than they do for their former classmates.
Ultimately, we’re not supposed to like them, per se, but I don’t think we’re supposed to blame them. There’s no sense of contempt or judgment in Kicking and Screaming; they’re just trying to figure stuff out without letting anyone know they don’t know everything already. Having aged through the movie— from not even being in college, to being a freshman, to being the age of the characters, to being older than the characters, to now being older than many of the actors — it’s that sense of empathy that I appreciate most. There’s a softness to it, and that can be a wonderful thing. (Liz – Streaming on Netflix)
Before things take a maudlin turn in the final third, David Wain‘s A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a witty, even insightful look back at Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, the founding of National Lampoon through the coke-fueled productions of Animal House and Caddyshack. Will Forte is effortlessly funny in the lead, when the film allows to be, and some of the meta touches are clever (the overall framing device of having Martin Mull, as the older Kenney that the real one never lived to be, narrate is silly and mostly enjoyable, of a piece with the film’s general tone).
By the end, Wain will try to split the difference between the dry jokes and straight biopic notes, which turns out to be a mistake, but the fun parts are still very fun. (Rick – Streaming on Netflix)
Every other line of dialogue is recognizable for its tropes but peculiar in its expression, like a Martian’s recreation of a human movie. Its characters take this up several more notches, each of them basically (in the words of Peter Moran of We Love To Watch) coming from entirely different movies. It’s a slasher, but its male protagonist comes from something like Porky’s and its female lead is a tennis superstar undercover cop in the Angie Dickinson Police Woman model — and that’s just for starters. The resolution isn’t nearly as gonzo as Camp, but it’s still… something else. (Streaming on Shudder)
Nurse – Rehab: Doctor! Doctor!
Dewey Cox: I’m so cold.
Rehab Doctor: We need more blankets.
Nurse – Rehab: We need more blankets!
Nurse – Rehab: Doctor!
Dewey Cox: I’m so hot!
Nurse – Rehab: I think he has too many blankets.
Rehab Doctor: Fewer blankets!
Dewey Cox: I’m hot and cold at the same time!
Nurse – Rehab: He needs more blankets and he needs less blankets.
Rehab Doctor: [gravely] I’m afraid you’re right.
Unfairly ignored upon its release and now in danger of being over-praised upon recuperation, Walk Hard is still the funniest send up of biopics I can think of, and a nice palate cleanser for A Stupid and Futile Gesture. It’s also just flat-out hilarious, with songs that have no right to be so good while also skewering the subjects at hand.
John C. Reilly‘s infectious sweetness is put to never-better use, and the army of quotable lines just keep marching on. (“Wrong kid died.”) (Rick – Streaming on Netflix)