Written By Jeff Mardo
This is a Parker Posey film, which in itself is enough of a reason for me to check this film out. However, I was surprised to find that Josh Hamilton is here as well. While you may not know the name of Josh Hamilton right away, the two of them worked together in a brilliantly satirical film called The House of Yes; one of my personal favorites. In fact, there are several things that tie these two films together in my mind. While both are very funny and disturbing films, the charm in them both is the tension hi…ing just beneath the satire. The tension here is that uneasy feeling of just what to do once you have finished your years at college, and you are forced to go out into the real world. It is that depressing no man’s land between knowledge and action.
The film is also quite a bit like another film; Richard Linklater’s fantastic Dazed and Confused. The difference is, while that film was fun, this one is just plain depressing. It’s clever and infinitely quotable (as the cover suggests), but the undercurrent of the film is a group of lost souls filled with loathing and low self-esteem. Whole the film is certainly right on target with the points it makes, that doesn’t make it particularly pleasant to watch.
I was disappointed with the quality of the audio here. The track feels something like”forced surround sound”. There is no subtle mix of the audio between speakers. It is as if each sound effect or bit of dialog was assigned entirely to a speaker. For instance, in one scene where several of the characters are in a bar, someone yells from of screen. That voice comes solely from the right rear speaker, when it should actually have reverberated off of the right front speaker as well. Instead of being massaged into the track, it is a harsh interjection that does not give the viewer the sense of being in the place. It is as if the track is a rough cut, before it had been mastered. All the elements are present, but the audio just does not travel smoothly.
I am surprised to say that I was disappointed by the video quality as well. The whole thing is dark and dingy. Edges are soft, and grain runs rampant. This looks more like a good VHS copy than a Criterion DVD. Arguments could be made that the bland color palette and washed-out quality is a commentary on the state of the characters themselves, but the fact remains that this is a DVD, and viewers should expect sharper image quality than this.
However, no Criterion disc can be all bad, and this one really comes on in the special features department. There are a ton of extras here, starting off with the standard theatrical trailer and one of Criterion’s always-entertaining essays; this one by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. Also included here is a series of interviews with the cast that were filmed for IFC when the film was released. They are short commercial style clips, but they still contain some descent information.
Also included are three deleted scenes that are really only going to appeal to hardcore fans of the show. It is nice, however, to see that Baumbauch has added some background notes before each scene plays. I wish more directors would do that. Speaking of, there is an entire interview with the director here as well, which was conducted exclusively for this DVD release. I really like it when Criterion does this, because it captures the filmmaker’s comments once he has established some distance between himself and the piece. (As a side note, it is also always really great that they go to the trouble to present these supplements in full anamorphic widescreen, just as they should be.)
Similarly, there is a secion called conversations which was filmed at the same time. This piece adds several of the cast members in to the mix for a more broad look at the film from different angles. This, too, is presented in a widescreen format. Finally, Baumbaugh’s 2000 short film Conrad and Butler in “Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation” is included. Sometimes you see early short films show up on discs, but this is the first time that I have seen a short film show up that is several years newer than the feature. It’s not a particularly noteworthy piece, but it is certainly mildly enjoyable and it makes a fine extra feature.
This is one of those satirical films that is just a little too realistic to be truly funny. I always thought that Molly Shannon was like that when she was on Saturday Night Life. She’d be playing an uncomfortable character for laugh value, and she would be just a bit too authentic with her portrayal. Instead of being hilarious, her bit would make the audience uncomfortable. That’s the thing here. The film is funny, and it is honest, but it may be just a bit too honest. It’s one thing to joke about a self-loathing lifestyle, but it is quite another to actually be self-loathing and try to make jokes to cover it up.
For those that are fans of this film, and I know there are a lot of you out there, then you will be pleased to hear that there are some quality extra features included on the disc from your friends at Criterion. I certainly don’t fault those that enjoy this film, I’m just saying that it was not for me.
Special Features List
- Video interview with Noah Baumbach
- Video conversations with Baumbach and cast members Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, and Carlos Jacott
- Deleted scenes
- Noah Baumbach’s 2000 short film Conrad and Butler in “Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation” featuring Kicking and Screaming cast members Carlos Jacott and John Lehr
- Brief 1995 interviews with Baumbach and the cast, originally broadcast on IFC
- Foldout booklet with an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum