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.
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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
The title refers to a prized display of a giant squid fighting a whale at the American Museum of Natural History, which appears in the final shot of the film. See more »
The Squid and the Whale display in the museum is in reality not brightly lit. It is a very dark display meant to simulate the inky depths of the ocean. (It probably would not show up on film as it really exists.) See more »
A friend of mine was hesitant to see this movie, because she'd heard that it pushes the agenda that divorce is never a good option for dealing with marital problems. I don't really know who told her this, and I hope this same reason isn't keeping others from seeing it. This isn't at all what I took away from the film. It certainly communicates the idea that divorce isn't easy, on either the parents or the kids, but I don't feel that it pronounces judgement on those who turn to it as an option.
"The Squid and the Whale" is a sad--though at times very funny--look at what divorce does to one family in 1986 New York. Jeff Daniels plays the dad, a pompous, arrogant writer whose feelings of commercial failure (he teaches literature at a university) cause him to act intellectually superior to everyone he meets. Daniels is almost too good in this role; he reminded me way too much of people I actually know who are like this. He's the kind of guy who would be deadly at a dinner party, because there's no such thing as a casual or flippant remark in this guy's presence. He analyzes everything to death, and isn't content until everyone's opinion matches his own.
Laura Linney plays the wayward mom, blamed for the break up of the marriage by the dad because of a string of affairs she carries on. Her guilt keeps her from being able to discipline her sons, especially the oldest, who treats her horribly. Linney's role is smaller but in some ways much more complex than Daniels'. Her character has to take responsibility for her infidelity but still make the audience sympathize with her.
Caught in the middle of this mess are their two boys. The oldest quickly allies himself with his dad, and walks around regurgitating his father's opinions on every subject, rarely pausing to form any of his own. The younger son, more sensitive and tired of being intellectually brow beaten by his father and older brother, sticks closer to the mom. No one is totally to blame, yet no one is completely innocent either in this honest and frank film.
Noah Baumbach has made no secret of the fact that it is based on his own adolescent life, and it has that confessional feeling that movies in this genre frequently do. There are awkward moments when this doesn't totally work. The ending for one is rather ham-fisted, and a scene between the oldest son and his school therapist seemed awfully pat to me. But the acting and the sharp writing make up for these weaknesses, and the movie manages to be poignant without ever becoming maudlin or overly sentimental.
See it for the performances of Linney and especially Daniels, who has been proving his versatility as an actor over the last few years.
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