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The Squid and the Whale

A movie directed by Noah Baumbach

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The Permutations of the Broken Family

  • Mar 23, 2006
  • by
Rating:
+3
Noah Baumbach makes an impressive debut as writer/director of his autobiographical story THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. It is a piece of life sliced out of the 1980s that is just as pertinent to today's culture as it was to the period piece Baumbach resurrects.

Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) is a shell of a being, a once famous writer who is now living as an unctuous teacher while his wife Joan (Laura Linney) is rising in fame as a novelist. Their marriage is obviously tired: 17 years have endured dissatisfactions that have finally bubbled to the surface where the couple decides to separate. They have two boys: Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) is a teenager who writes music and worships his father's literary mind while the younger Frank (Owen Kline) is a wide eyed devotee of his mother's affection. They are polarized in their commitments to their separating parents and struggle with the business of adapting to joint custody and split homes. Walt escapes into music that results in an embarassing secret and into nascent sexual experiences with his plain girlfriend Sophie (Halley Feiffer), encountering sexual dysfunction in ego damaging ways. Frank responds with his own brand of sexual dysfunction that is at once hilarious and disturbing. Bernard takes on a licentious student Lili (Anna Paquin) who is without a place to stay, complicating libido-driven Frank's life and blurring Bernard's perception of propriety. When it is discovered that Joan has been having affairs throughout the marriage and is now involved with the boys' tennis coach Ivan (William Baldwin), the family's fragile surface cracks open and the fracture is a compound one. How this dysfunctional family unit copes with the new way of life is the means to the end of the film.

While each of the actors gives career defining performances (even the young boys are superb) the film leaves us with a somewhat distant feeling: as well as these characters is each described and enacted it is very difficult to like or identify with any of them, as they are each self-centered and narrow minded people making them difficult to enjoy. But that fact doesn't alter the final result of a film beautifully written, directed and acted. This is first-rate movie making from a young artist with an exciting future. It will be great to watch for his next, less personalized story. Grady Harp, March 06

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More The Squid and the Whale reviews
review by . October 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Squid and the Whale is an ensemble piece whose main adjective is spoken by Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels): difficult.      The marriage between Bernard and Joan (Laura Linney) disintegrates. Common enough. What is uncommon is that both of them have Ph. D.’s in Literature, so, if nothing else, it’s pretty obvious that the language of the broken dynamic will be . . . difficult. The victims (and they are victims) are the two boys: Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank …
review by . January 02, 2009
DVD
Bernard (Jeff Daniels) was once a successful novelist; now he's a stuffy, patronizing college professor. His wife Joan (Laura Linney) has been learning to write and has just published her first novel. And she's been having multiple love affairs for years. The two separate and the battle over the kids begins. Big brother Walt idolizes his father and hates his mother, but mostly just wants a girlfriend. 12-year old Frank sides with Mom and has some major problems of his own.     This …
review by . April 22, 2006
Freedom is loved and desired. However, in "The Squid and the Whale," freedom is showcased with a family where everyone is doing (mostly) what he or she wants, and everyone is miserable. Reeling on separation and an inevitable divorce, the father (Jeff Daniels) and the mother (Laura Linney) are writers. (The father's work is waning, so he works as a professor.) In this household, the separation leaves two boys, an older adolescent, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and a coming-of-age adolescent, Frank (Owen …
review by . January 05, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
"The Squid and the Whale" is a movie that shows us something we'd rather not see: The ugly side of divorce. I've always been fascinated with the way Hollywood portrays divorce. They never really portray it as something that is truly horrible, just as a "touch luck/too bad" thing that happens to many people. In other words, divorce is a part of human nature, and you might as well get used to it. Of course, people who have been effected by divorce will tell you otherwise. The fact that so many divorcees …
review by . November 14, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: acting, humor, realism, characters     Cons: a couple of unrealistic details     The Bottom Line: "Joint custody blows."      Philistine: 1. A smug, ignorant, especially middle-class person who is regarded as being indifferent or antagonistic to artistic and cultural values.    2. One who lacks knowledge in a specific area.         Bernard Berkman is the kind of man who tries to beat his 12-year-old …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #97
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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Wiki

The Squid and the Whalefollows the divorce of Joan (Laura Linney,You Can Count on Me) and Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels,The Purple Rose of Cairo) as it wreaks havoc on the emotional lives of their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg,Roger Dodger) and Frank (Owen Kline,The Anniversary Party). Though there's no plot in the usual sense, the movie progresses with growing emotional force from the separation into the bitter fighting between Joan and Bernard and the hapless, floundering behavior of Walt and Frank, who act out through plagiarism, sexual acts, and drinking. Some viewers may find the ending too diffuse; others will appreciate that writer/director Noah Baumbach (Mr. Jealousy) doesn't wrap up the messiness of life in a false cinematic package. Either way, viewers will appreciate how the specificity of the personalities makesThe Squid and the Whaleso compelling, as Baumbach has drawn the characters with such detail, both engaging and off-putting, that they leap off the screen. Naturally, he's greatly helped by the cast: Linney, Eisenberg, Kline, and especially Daniels bite into these often unsympathetic portraits and give fearlessly honest performances, interlocked in both painful and funny ways--rarely have family dynamics been captured so vividly. If there was an ensemble Oscar, this cast would deserve it.--Bret Fetzer
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Details

Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Drama
Release Date: October 5, 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Noah Baumbach
DVD Release Date: March 21, 2006
Runtime: 81 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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