That internet movie legend is false: filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s debut feature, “Kicking And Screaming,” was never almost accepted to the Cannes Film Festival and then rejected because the director refused to cut fifteen minutes from the film as requested.
“Maybe we should print that [though] because it sounds good,” Baumbach joked. While the filmmaker says his recollection of making the movie is somewhat fuzzy, there’s other difficult elements of the disenfranchised post-college picture that’s burned into his memory. “If you asked me if certain scenes were in the movie, [I might not] remember. But if you ask me the machinations of its release in festivals, I can tell you exactly what happened. The anger and bitterness that fueled whatever part of the brain remembers those things,” he laughed.
Released in 1995, the witty indie comedy about a group of college friends paralyzed by postgraduate ennui, is celebrating its 17th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, (even if it is a peculiar amount of passed time to celebrate), BAMCinemafest is screening the film tomorrow night (Saturday, June 30th) at BAM in Brooklyn. As a bonus, a post-screening Q&A will accompany the film with participation by Baumbach himself, along with stars Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, and co-writer Oliver Berkman, with the discussion moderated by author Chuck Klosterman.
Also starring Parker Posey, Olivia d’Abo, and Elliott Gould, while the '90s film – essentially about disaffected youths and over-clever postgrads too afraid to grow-up – was easily labeled with the indolent “Gen-Xer” tag, Baumbach and his friends were anything but slackers, as evinced by the ambitious director making the movie at the ripe old age of 24. And while that Gen-X/slacker label may have helped the film from a marketing angle (sort of), Baumbach says it annoyed him while it was happening.
“It was kind of a drag for me at the time because I also had been trying to get the movie made since I got out of college [in 1991] and when I wrote it these labels weren't around,” he said. “I sort of thought, ‘Oh Jesus, I thought this was about me and my friends instead of a whole fucking generation who supposedly don't know what they want to do with their lives,’ but I was probably overtly sensitive to that kind of thing anyway.”
But even then, the marketing tag was a double-edged sword. Produced and distributed by Trimark Pictures, a mostly straight-to-video company trying to move into the indie domain ala Miramax, whose biggest hits to date were “Leprechaun” and “Warlock,” the studio wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the film’s success either. “Gen X was a term but it was also a genre — if you could call it that — that people already had this feeling wasn't commercial,” the director explained. “So the company that financed was both utilizing the terms but at the same time telling me that nobody wanted to see these movies.”
A typical up and down indie financing experience, “Kicking And Screaming” fell apart several times before it got made, but when one actor dropped out, the addition of indie '90s mainstay actor Eric Stoltz in an 11th hour casting bid saved the film.
“There were so many different cast things too because it's like the movie would come together with one group of people and then fall apart,” Baumbach said. After flirting with several companies Trimark had finally agreed to finance it, but then tried pull out. “So I basically just said what if Eric Stoltz [who had already read and liked the script] was in it? And they said ‘Well, we could use his name in the marketing. You know you can keep your million dollars.’ We kind of just wrote that character last minute.”
While borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ‘90s has already hit, the filmmaker doesn’t look back at the decade as anything other than something deeply personal. “I graduated in '91 so the '90s for me were very much the first years out of school, so I can't really look at that decade as independent of my own experience of my 20s really,” he said. “I was just writing comedic versions of what my friends and I talked about and the use of pop culture references and trivia. Those were things that seemed at least somewhat novel at the time. And then post-Tarantino and they kind of, they became almost required for a while.”
Though the film has now become an indie-film touchstone, Baumbach says ultimately the story is a rather familiar one, albeit one connected to his individual affinities. “I wanted to make my version of ‘Diner’ and yet [its director Barry Levinson] was looking back at Fellini's ‘I Vitteloni,' ” he said. “There's always some generational-guys-hanging-out movie that is made every few years I think, and some of them are great. I've always felt some kind of connection to people who are kind of over-smart. People who over-think things to the point of some sort of paralysis, and I think that certainly can be me on any given day.”
And while the film is now considered a '90s contemporary classic, and has been minted by the Criterion Collection, the legacy of “Kicking And Screaming” received a potential blow in 2005 when a Will Ferrell soccer comedy borrowed the same title. And while it was something the filmmaker attempted to fight at the time (or at least see what his options were), ultimately Ferrell’s film won the battle, but Baumbach's film won the war. “Will Ferrell’s made a lot of brilliant movies,” Baumbach said. “But I’m lucky that none of those were called ‘Kicking And Screaming.' ”
“Kicking & Screaming” screens at BAMCinemafest Saturday, June 30 at 7pm. Don’t forget it also features a Q&A with Noah Baumbach, Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, and co-writer Oliver Berkman, moderated by Chuck Klosterman.