SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE
In 1986 Brooklyn, Bernard (Jeff Daniels), an academic and unfulfilled author, and his restless wife Joan, (Laura Linney) an up-and-coming writer, have given up on their marriage. Their two sons Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), 16, and Frank (Owen Kline), 12, have to grapple with their confused and conflicted feelings.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hailed as a writer and director of great fresh talent, Noah Baumbach probes a family as it disintegrates, looking for emotional connections, layers of human frailty and strength and shards of painful truth. The film is not a story that takes us from A to B, although there is change in the family's relationship network.
More to do with process and journey than plot, the screenplay shows us a family thrashing in pain as it slowly sinks under water. References to this imagery abound, not least the title, which refers to a giant diorama at the Natural History Museum where a giant squid and a whale are frozen in eternal combat. The combat, however, is not a symbol for the marriage of Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney); the humans are not natural enemies - or are they?
The film is not easy to approach: for one thing, none of the characters are especially likeable, not even young Frank (Owen Kline), who comes the closest. Bernard is a weak and insincere prig, Joan is selfish and insensitive. The boys are angry young fellas hurt by all the angst around them, and the writing brings out some punchy performances.
Sexuality is one of the currencies traded throughout, and there are insights into sexual behaviour that ring true. However, these scenes do nothing to make the film more 'revealing' - they become tactics and devices the filmmakers use to score inexplicable points about the human condition. The confusion and pain of the characters is real, however, and we respond to that.
Review by Louise Keller:
With similar themes to The Door in the Floor, The Squid and the Whale is a piercing portrayal of a family in crisis. Told from the bickering parents' point of view, writer director Noah Baumbach has based the story on his own childhood experiences; there is much painful truth on display.
The film has a sense of immediacy, and when we meet the four members of the Berkman family swinging their frustrations from one end of the tennis court to the other, it's almost as though we are witnessing a family movie which nobody would want us to see. Balls are spun to the most vulnerable spots and sporting competitive streaks are misguidedly used to divide loyalties. It is painful to watch.
Of course, the body blows the parents are dealing to each other profoundly affect their two teenage kids, who are struggling with their identities and rebel fiercely. There's a power struggle going on between Jeff Daniels' once-successful writer Bernard and Laura Linney's newly successful author, who has become his punching bag. Daniels may have made a name for himself in comedy roles, but here, he gives the performance of his career as the bitter Bernard, who is drowning in his own anger, unable to stop himself from trying to infect everyone around him with his poison. Linney too, is superb, as a woman side-stepping the flying ammunition and trying to re-establish her life and the relationships with her children.
The poignancy of the film is heightened by outstanding performances by both youngsters. Jesse Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) is Walt, the troubled sixteen year old who cries for attention singing Pink Floyd's song 'Hey You' passing it off as his own, and twelve year old son Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline) who starts drinking beer and becomes obsessed with masturbation. Both Walt and Frank react differently as their father starts to pay attention to one of his young students (Anna Paquin, intriguing) and their mother begins a relationship with William Baldwin's tennis coach. The scene involving Walt and the school psychiatrist results in a surprising way, triggering a happy and pivotal childhood memory of a visit to the Museum of Natural Sciences that houses.
The Squid and The Whale is a poignant film about the family unit in dysfunctional disarray. It's brittle, yet tender. Familiar, yet fresh. Intelligent with shooting pains of unpredictability, the film offers no simple answers to unanswerable questions. Instead it leave us with a heartfelt portrayal that involves and touches us in a way to which we can all relate.
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SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE (MA)
CAST: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin
PRODUCER: Wes Anderson, Charlie Corwin, Clara Markowitz, Peter Newman
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
SCRIPT: Noah Baumbach
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert D. Yeoman
EDITOR: Tim Streeto
MUSIC: Britta Phillips, Dean Wareham (song by Brian Adams)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anne Ross
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 13, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: October 25, 2006