What will follow is the ending to my favorite movie.
Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler.
The movie is Kicking and Screaming, the 1995 film directed by Noah Baumbach, not to be confused with the Will Ferrell movie, Kicking & Screaming, from a decade later.
My favorite film is about a group of friends who graduate from college, but don’t move on with their lives, physically or emotionally. Max and Grover keep their apartment together, Otis puts off going to grad school in Milwaukie, Skippy spends most of his nights with his college girl friend and re-enrolls in school to audit the classes he feels he missed, and the wise bar tender Chet is rumored to have taken every class that the University offers, but is somehow still struggling to finish the third chapter of his thesis.
This movie was made in the 90’s and was allowed to exist, I think, in part because of the success of the sitcom Seinfeld. If Seinfeld was a show about nothing then Kicking and Screaming is a film about nothing. Of course, that isn’t exactly true; it wouldn’t be my favorite movie if nothing happened, which coincidentally is said about Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, except it’s a two act play, so nothing happens twice.
Kicking and Screaming is a film about emotional paralysis. It’s about the main character Grover, and his inability to move on with his life when his girlfriend Jane leaves him to accept a position in a writing program in Czechoslovakia, it is never made clear if it’s Slovakia or the Czech Republic, Grover never had a chance to keep up on the news in college. Grover discovers Jane’s change in plans during the opening scene of the movie and what follows is an hour and thirty-six minutes of Grover and his friends making the occasional bad choice, but mostly refusing to choose, which prevents them from moving on with their lives. Interspersed in this nothing, are the well placed flashbacks Grover has of Jane, who he first encounters in his writing class.
Jane says,”I’d like to say first up that, uh… the prose is remarkable. It’s beautifully written. Uh, however, I’ve noticed that, uh, the characters in Grover’s stories… spend all their time discussing the least important… things. Uh- You know, like what to have for dinner or… who’s the best-looking model in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. I don’t know. To me, the story just seemed slight. It had the feeling of being written in – in one night.”
Grover responds, “I – I think I said plenty. Uh, perhaps something rubbed Ms.” “- Hayworth-” “Well, it seems I must have done something right if Ms. Hayworth has reacted so strongly. And this was a particularly hot issue of Victoria’s Secret. They had to make some very tough decisions.”
Jane counters, “You -You joke, but I really see nothing wrong with dealing with the important subject matter. All that thought and energy put into Saturday morning cartoons. I – I think its depressing.” Despite this exchange, somehow the two fall in love. So you see, giving you the ending of the movie where Grover and Jane are about to have their first kiss can’t be a spoiler because they break up in the opening scene, so they had to have been together at one point.
Here’s the scene
The Scene opens with Grover running toward Jane who is walking away and taps her on the shoulder.
This is for my confession in the bar.
I’m – I’m a little drunk.
But I didn’t mean to scare you.
– That’s okay. I’ll take 50 cents.
– You still find your name weird?
– Oh. No.
Just happens to me occasionally.
Jane touches her retainer, with excitement.
Oh, I came up with a great comeback
to something you said to me yesterday.
I can’t remember it now, though.
How come I never saw you
before writing class?
I guess you didn’t look.
I mean, I’ve always been there.
Just to think, for four years
we were catching the same colds…
being bit by the same mosquitoes.
So, what’s your sign?
I’m a Scorpio.
– I’m a Libra.
– Oh, really? What does that mean?
-I don’t know. It should mean something,
though. It sounds like it does.
Yeah, it does.
– It must.
Jane takes a pad and pen from her purse and begins to write.
– Some story ideas?
No, something occurred to me.
That’s good to do that.
I always forget to carry writing materials.
Is it really obnoxious?
Okay, the way I see it…
if we were an old couple
and dated for years…
graduated away from all these
and I reached over and kissed you…
you wouldn’t say a word –
you’d be delighted… probably.
But if I was to do that now
it would be quite forward.
And if I did it the first time we ever met,
you probably would hit me.
What do you mean?
I just wish we were an old couple
so I could do that.
Jane’s hand reaches to her mouth and touches her retainer, but then puts her hand back down. She smiles. Grover laughs with big love struck eyes.
The screen fades to black and Freedy Johnston’s Bad Reputation plays as the credits roll.
On the one hand, Jane touches her retainer because she wants to take it out to Kiss Grover, but like Grover, she realizes her actions as well as his are “too forward,” but on the other hand, she touches it because she has thought of something witty to say as a retort to Grover’s heart felt, albeit awkward speech. Throughout the film, she removes her retainer to deliver punchy quips. And yet she stops herself from saying it. Grover is totally vulnerable. Jane could destroy him with a word, but she chooses not to. She chooses the kiss, a kiss the audience doesn’t see, but nonetheless knows of its occurs. This is one of the reasons I love this movie: Baumbach’s choice to leave the kiss out of view is telling of his gift as a young director. The entire love affair and heart break that follows, i.e. the entire movie depends on the perfection of that moment we don’t see, that we imagine, and I imagine we are left to imagine it because we all imagine it differently.
There are lot more reasons I have loved this movie and a few for why I have continued to love this movie. I have been some of these depressing and depressed characters. I have been Grover, heart-broken and heart breaking, living my story in my mind instead of writing it. I’ve been max who wanted to get “I hate it” tattooed in his mouth. I’ve been skippy, who’s thought he was an integral part of a group, when in reality I was an outlier. Heck, I dress like Grover. For a time, my drink of choice was Scotch, “these drinks that we’re drinking here, Scotch, affectations that become habit,” not to mention how
Twenty years I make it
through all that peer pressure.
– Suddenly, my senior year, you get me addicted.
– Because you smoke now, I should too?
No. But what you did was sneaky –
Yes, you should smoke too!
and I have even fancied myself, the mystic bar tender Chet, handing out wisdom in dimly lit rooms: “I’m paraphrasing myself here, but I’ve always said, ‘If Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini.’” But more than that, I love the way the film is so eloquently crafted, the way the present reminds Grover of the past, and how the characters in the background affect the characters in the foreground, something that seldom occurs in most films, but happens in our everyday lives, the pieces of conversation we pick up, as we walk silently by affect us, and so in the film, they affect the characters, we wander with Max across the campus he claims to hate, shaking his head at the things he hears although he’s “here now by choice”, as if there were a time when there wasn’t a choice, as if we couldn’t at any moment, run up to the counter of an airline and say,
Everybody else in America has been to Prague.
What’s the big deal, you send one extra?
You see, I’ve been needing to go there
for a long time now.
I mean, there’s Czech and Slovakia
and a big Jewish cemetery…
and the opera house and –
Maybe that’s Vienna where the opera house is.
But that’s nearby, you know.
Given the opportunity,
I’d hit Vienna too.
Hell, I’d do all of Europe,
given a chance.
I can imagine Jane and some Praguian idiot
dancing the night away.
A horrible image.
And the coffee –
See, all I know is American coffee.
Or the beer.
Whatever’s good over there.
It’s gotta all be better over there.
And nothing I eat has any taste.
This has been such a strange time.
I wonder, if I was there now,
how would things be different.
Isn’t there a big bridge with statues on it?
I seem to remember that
from a history class.
Jane and some guy
kissing on the bridge…
No, it’s Jane
and some Czech writer.
Image kills me.
Just great. This is so frustrating,
because I’m terrible at conflict. I hate it.
And if I’d imagined this problem
while falling asleep last night…
I don’t think I would have
spoken up to you.
Even in my fantasy life I just would
have accepted it. That’s who I am.
But today I have to go.
I have to.
And when I tell people about this in the future,
I know that –
it’ll be the time that I went.
And I know that when I review
this whole episode in my head…
I’m not gonna know what I did
or why I did it.
I think they’ve done something
with the real Grover.
But it’ll make a good story
of my young adult life.
the time I chose to go to Prague.
I’ll look back on it and I won’t believe
that I actually went, you know. I went away.
So let me go.
I have to. I need –
Just put me on the plane.
Let me go.