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The Squid and the Whale

A movie directed by Noah Baumbach

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The Ugly Side of Divorce

  • Jan 5, 2006
"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 can watch Hollywood movies about divorce shows just how timid and kind Hollywood is to the subject.

This is not one of those movies. This movie will not hold your hand and demand you not be scared by divorce. This movie does no less then get in your face and practicably beats you over the head with the horrible consequences of divorce. You may actually feel yourself worn out by the time the movie is finished. If you couldn't guess by now, the movie is about a married couple named Bernard and Joan, and their two kids Frank and Walt. Bernard and Joan have a rocky relationship. Bernard used to be a huge author, but now has trouble getting his books published. Joan used to have little interest in writing, but was inspired by her husband to try writing herself.

Now the tables have turned some twenty years later, and now Joan is the successful writer and Bernard is the one with no career. They now fight all the time, with Bernard getting frustrated that he seems to be losing his power status with the family, and Joan feeling like her husband would rather have her on a leash. Soon the parents decide to divorce, to the surprise of no one (even to Frank and Walt). The kids aren't really surprised when their parents announce that they are splitting up, but they still can't really comprehend how things came to be this way. What's worse is that both kids have a parent he likes better, and the parents use this to their advantage.

In what comes as the biggest blow to the audience, each of the grownup's start telling their kids stories about the other parents and giving that kid special privileges. Bernard tells Frank about affairs Joan has while they were married, and Joan lets Walt drink beer and read pornographic magazines. The bait serves it's purpose, and before you know it Frank and Walt have become pawns in their parents bickering match, and neither side will waver. A particularly heartbreaking scene comes in when Frank starts dating a girl. Both his parents have advice for him, but none of the advice he receives in on the same level, and Frank messes up with the girls because he can't decide which parent to listen to.

Meanwhile, Walt picks up a couple of (truly disgusting) bad habits in order to get his parents attention, only to find out that his parents aren't really interested in solving the problem, but are rather more interested in seeing how they can put the blame for this behavior on one another. The squid and the whale is a metaphor, but what the metaphor is I won't tell you. As stated before, "The Squid and the Whale" is a tough movie. It takes a problem we are all too familiar with, and it presents it to us in away that many of us are unaware exists. The movie has some problems (the dad's affair with a student could have been handled better), but it is an excellent achievement in film.

The movie has been playing in limited release, and it is definitely worth hunting down. It may be something you don't normally expect to see from your movies, but it does pay off quite well.

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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
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 . March 23, 2006
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 …
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
Kevin T. Rodriguez ()
Ranked #127
Kevin T. Rodriguez is an aspiring film journalist. He's more comfortable typing a review then doing an on-camera appearance, but he loves doing the occasional rant. Whether it be on movies, eBay, or comics, … more
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About this movie


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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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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