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.
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
Noah Baumbach, the immensely talented writer, and director of "The Squid and the Whale" clearly demonstrates he is one of the brightest young directors working in America today. Having admired his previous films, we were looking forward to this new work in which he presents a part of his life, baring his soul, something some other movie makers would shy away from. This experience must have been a painful reminder for Mr. Baumbah of his past, or maybe it served as a catharsis.
If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading here.
The Berkman household in Park Slope, Brooklyn, appears to be normal when we are introduced to the family. These are the kinds of parents that encourage their two children participate in discussions in which books are at the center of the conversation. What's more, Walt, the eldest boy, seems to know a lot about what is discussed. Bernard, the father, is an author that hasn't got a lot of recognition and now teaches college to support the family. Joan, the mother, also a writer, is starting to get her work published. The two sons, Walt and Frank are clever beyond their years.
Evidently, not all seems to be happy in the house. First, one notices Bernard making the couch in the morning, in which he has slept in order to "ease his back problems". Joan, is a supporting mother, but somehow, she appears to be distant. Both parents sit with the kids one night to tell them about their impending separation. Of course, this takes Frank, and especially Frank aback by the announcement. The semblance of a tightly knit family begins to unravel in front of the children's eyes.
For Walt, the situation is not as crucial as it is for Frank. Being older and being a city kid, Walt has seen this happening among his age group. For Frank, however, his parents break up is the end of the world, as he knew it. Both boys are resilient in accepting the situation. It's clear Bernard and Joan love their sons, but the idea of not having both parents around at the same time is devastating.
"The Squid and the Whale" is a film that lays bare the emotions the two boys are experiencing. Basically, it's their film as it shows how they have to adjust to the new circumstances. They both adore their parents, but the resentment is clear as they blame Bernard and Joan for daring to fall out of love and in a way, abandon them to a new reality the older Berkmans didn't prepared them for.
The quality of the acting Mr. Baumbach gets from this ensemble cast is absolutely amazing. We believe we are, in a way, intruding in this family's problems. We are voyeurs to the tragedy their separation presents for the boys. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are perfect as the elder Berkmans. Mr. Daniels, especially, gives an inspired performance for his take of the stingy Bernard. Ms. Linney, one of our best actresses, is marvelous as Joan.
What the director has done with the young actors, Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline is something incredible. We can't think of any other director that could have accomplished what Noah Baumbach has in guiding them to make the great contribution both these teen agers gave to the film. Both actors are up to the task and there are never a false move from anyone of them.
The supporting cast is interesting. William Baldwin plays the tennis pro Ivan. Anna Paquin is good as Lili, Bernard's student that is wiser than her young years indicate. Halley Feiffer is perfectly sweet as Sophie who likes Walt.
The film has been photographed in a faded technique by Robert Yeoman that gives the film a nostalgic look. The musical score is fine, reflecting the era in which the movie takes place.
The movie is a triumph for Noah Baumbah who clearly shows he is an unique voice for these times.
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