Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents' divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980s.
With only the plan of moving in together after high school, two unusually devious friends seek direction in life. As a mere gag, they respond to a man's newspaper ad for a date, only to find it will greatly complicate their lives.
In 1986, In Brooklyn, New York, the dysfunctional family of pseudo intellectuals composed by the university professor Bernard and the prominent writer Joan split. Bernard is a selfish, cheap and jealous decadent writer that rationalizes every attitude in his family and life and does not accept "philistines" - people that do not read books or watch movies, while the unfaithful Joan is growing as a writer and has no problems with "philistines". Their sons, the teenager Walt and the boy Frank, feel the separation and take side: Walt stays with Bernard, and Frank with Joan, and both are affected with abnormal behaviors. Frank drinks booze and smears with sperm the books in the library and a locker in the dress room of his school. The messed-up and insecure Walt uses Roger Water's song "Hey You" in a festival as if it was of his own, and breaks with his girlfriend Sophie. Meanwhile Joan has an affair with Frank's tennis teacher Ivan and Bernard with his student Lili. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director (and Wes Anderson collaborator) Noah Baumbach presents a semi-autobiographical therapy session where he unleashes the anguish and turmoil that has carried over from his childhood. The result is an amazing insight into what many people go through in a desperate attempt to try and make their family work.
The casting of Jeff Daniels forces us to view him as the grown up Flap from "Terms of Endearment". He has become a bitter, unfocused, pompous ass of a person, father, husband and professor. The inability to recapture the magic of his early writing success has caused him to look down on all other writers ... whether they be Fitzgerald or his own wife. This is Daniels' best work ever on screen and is at once, painful and a joy to behold.
Laura Linney plays his wife as a woman who loves her kids unequivocally and has a zest for life that her downbeat husband no longer shares. Her new found success as a writer sets her off on a trail of confidence and joy, all the while understanding that her family still needs her very much.
The kids really take the film to the next level. Jessie Eisenberg (brilliant in "Roger Dodger") and Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) are both scene stealers as they struggle in their own distinct ways with their separated parents and their continuance through adolescence. Watching Eisenberg's worship his dad and subsequently realize the truth is just amazing stuff. Kline's outbursts on the tennis court and at the ping pong table are nothing compared to his discovery of alcohol and self-pleasure. The angst and pain these two experience is felt by millions of kids in divorce situations.
Other outstanding performances include William Baldwin (the one from "Backdraft"), Holly Feifer (as Eisenberg's first girlfriend) and Anna Paquin (underused, but still very effective). Baldwin provides some comic relief with his incessant "my brother" narrative and Feifer is extraordinary in capturing teen adoration as she lusts after Eisenberg. Thanks to her distinct similarity in looks to Linney, I laughed outloud when Daniels tells Eisenberg "she's not my type".
Listening to Daniels try to manipulate everyone he communicates with causes immense dislike among viewers, but we can't help but feel some empathy for him as he seems to believe he is doing all he can do put his family back together. His fatherly advice is not to be missed (or followed!). Watching him look for the perfect parking place is really his search for his place in a world that has deserted him.
Baumbach has created a terrific film and probably exorcised some personal demons along the way. Definitely not a film for the whole family, but it offers much insight and many messages. Also the use of the soundtrack is downright brilliant including key music from Pink Floyd and Loudon Wainright.
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