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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.
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
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.
Noah Baumbach takes a loving (oh?) stab at his parents' divorce,
brought on by the hilariously immature antics of his father, and my
writing professor, the ever pompous Jonathan Baumbach (Jeff Daniels).
Brooklyn College was a hotbed of activism and liberal arts when I first encountered Jonathan Baumbach (rechristened "Bernard" in the film, a sly wink at Jonathan's mentor and hero, Bernard Malamud). The arrogance and complete lack of self awareness is perfectly captured by Daniels in his over-the-top performance which, amazingly, underplays the actual father.
To call the picture patricidal is to completely miss the point; Baumbach pere is so self centered, he likely sees the film as an homage. Baumbach Sr. is a great writer; he receives good reviews in the literary journals and his books sell in the hundreds. Baumbach Jr., on the other hand, is a great filmmaker, and his movies (The Life Aquatic) are seen by millions. I'm sure the father is disappointed that the son isn't pursuing tenure at a small Ohio college.
I saw this film in a cozy college theater at the Toronto Film Festival. I half expected to run into Jonathan Baumbach, in his leather patched tweed jacket, preening for the audience and eying the coeds.
Funny and poignant. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to choke the bastard.
More acutely than I've experienced in a long time, this film captures the process of personality inheritance within families. The interaction/influence between Bernard and Walt is almost painful to watch at times, but it's completely rich. Beyond just that father/son dynamic, the story is so poignant without ever getting sappy - a true accomplishment for a family drama involving divorce. Nothing hits you over the head. Nothing seems too forced. While there's plenty of confusion, discomfort, and alienation, a sense of love shines through, and I couldn't help but get attached to all of the characters. I recommend this film unconditionally.
Almost a perfect movie. Everyone needs to see this one.
Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are both extraordinary. Factor in the performances of Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline and this may be the most well-acted movie I've seen in a couple of years.
I've never enjoyed watching Daniels so much. Kline hits a home-run in his first major role. Eisenberg's performance is Oscar-worthy. (Yes, Daniels is great, but Eisenberg earns a Best Supporting Actor nomination in this one!)
What I enjoyed most of all is how some very, VERY delicate humor is brilliantly woven throughout this incredibly sad movie.
Cheers to Noah Baumbach for putting his life on paper and letting these terrific actors tell the tale.
That's it. Thanks for reading.
It's interesting to read all of the comments and how each reviewer has
found something unique that calls to them. Some reviewers have focused
on the boys or the father or the mother. Different scenes have been
noted, almost none by more than one reviewer. What this tells me is
that the writer/director has crafted a story in which all of the scenes
contribute to the whole. This was my experience watching the movie. It
was believable, well shot, great backgrounds, all in all a treat for
anyone who loves movies and can handle some pretty raw
dialog/situations.....and nothing gets blown up.
I would recommend this only for adults or a very mature teenager. The language and situations are tough but as I said, very believable. I identified with much of what the teens in this movie are going through and my sympathies definitely sided with them against their self-involved and self-indulgent parents. This is the best role I've ever seen Jeff Daniels in and having known men in my life like his character I think he was spot-on with his portrayal. There were no weak characterizations with any of the actors, for that matter.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Noah Baumbach's semi-autobiographical tale of divorce in the mid-1980's
in Brooklyn is funny and touching and ranks right up there with the
best work of Woody Allen or Sophia Coppola as superb bourgeois cinema
where we are treated to the neurotic underbelly of over-educated,
over-indulged, upwardly mobile, urban middle class families. This a
wonderful film imbued with a fantastic sense of place and time and
small details in which the viewer can find great delight (like the
hilarious scene where Jeff Daniels takes his teenage son and the kid's
new girlfriend to see David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" instead of the first
choice "Short Circuit" or the closing shot of the actual squid fighting
a whale at the NYC Musueum of Natural History).
Jeff Daniels is slyly funny as the cheapskate, snobbish father who was once the toast of the literary world and is now just getting by on teaching. Laura Linney is again perfection (when is she not, really) as the mother just starting her own brilliant literary career and who is a bit too open about her sexuality with her children. While the parents bicker over custody (even the cat gets to skate between two homes), the older son acts out by plagiarizing Pink Floyd in a talent show and nervous encounters with girls (one of whom is his father's live-in student/lover played by the always alluring Anna Paquin), and the younger son (a very good Owen Kline-real life son of Kevin Kline and Pheobe Cates) turns to drinking alone and public masturbation.
It's all as awkward, real, and devastatingly funny as it sounds. A great script and even better acting highlight this tale of a family on the skids. Every member of the family is brilliantly brought to life and even though they are acting in their own flawed, selfish, self-annihilating and myopic ways, they still endear themselves to the audience like they are our own family.
Bottom line: Only a Philistine would turn down the chance to enjoy "The Squid and the Whale."
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.
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005) **** Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jessie
Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin, William Baldwin.
Literary autobiography with heartfelt humor.
Filmmaker Noah Baumbach is back in fine form since his debut with the excellent "Kicking and Screaming" (a personal fave of mine; a "Diner" for the '90s) in this semi-autobiographical account of his family's dealing with his parent's divorce with bittersweet frankness and a heaping of witty humor.
The family Berkman of Park Slope, Brooklyn circa the early 1980s, consists of author/teacher Bernard (Daniels in a career high performance that deserves an Oscar nod), literary pursuant mother Joan (Linney sublimely good) and sons Walt and Frank (Eisenberg and Kline, the latter the progeny of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates making a Culkinian debut with surprising chops) aka Chicken and Pickle (their mom's nicknames). The quartet is harmonious in literary pursuits and drastic life changes when the parents agree on separating sending the boys (and ultimately themselves) into an emotional tailspin.
Bernard, a very sardonic critical yet loving man, is taking it very internally despite his sarcastic remarks about everything to his sons as a sounding board in his attempt to keep his boys together by a joint custody agreement with Joan by taking a fixer-upper brownstone across the park while he deals with the likelihood that his new book will never be published.
Joan's affairs are discovered shockingly by the boys - Walt the more avuncularly bitter lashing out and blaming her for not giving the marriage a chance reasoning that dad's lack of success has made her seek another shot a life of empty sex yet promise in her undiscovered writing talents (much to the resentment of Bernard); meanwhile budding tennis pro wannabe Frank, the youngest, begins to experiment with alcohol and masturbation.
Added to the mix is Lili (Paquin), a female writing student of Bernard's, who has a hidden agenda when Bernard invites her to share his new home as a roommate while the boys visit every other day with mixed results. Walt is attempting to begin a sexual awakening as well with his first girlfriend but is getting all the wrong comic advice from Bernard who is clueless with the opposite sex as he is also trying to have sex with Lili while burning over Joan who has hooked up with Frank's tennis instructor Ivan (a doofy Baldwin whose every other utterance is "Brother").
Achingly funny, sharply witty and skewering with some pricelessly amusing moments including the running gag of Bernard driving his kids around the neighborhood ("my space is missing!" an apt metaphor for his listless situation) and subtle touches (Bernard reading Saul Bellow's THE VICTIM and the new home decorated with posters of films like PSYCHO and THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE and using the instrumental theme of Tangerine Dream's score to "Risky Business" during Frank's sexual awakenings!) ) bring a smile if not a burst of laughter in the unease of a family's reluctant transition that will scar them forever.
Baumbach is clearly making a heartfelt valentine to his own upbringing when his parents eventually divorced during his trying teens and the affects that have rubbed off are bittersweet and universally humorous. He has a keen touch with his actors especially Daniels, the centerpiece character, who is brilliantly funny, touching and head-shaking misanthropic at the absurdity of his situation (at one point he says glibly with a touch of melancholy, "that's my home which I used to live in as you may know", to his son during one of their jaunts back and forth) that has echoes of his first fine role as Flap, the philandering English professor husband of the doomed Debra Winger in "Terms of Endearment", suggesting a bookend to what Flap may have become ultimately (and I'm damned if I'm not right at one point Walt is looking at his father's novel's backflap and the photo suggests a still from that film!). Bernard genuinely cares for his family but does things in such an ass-backward (and frugal) way that it is borderline heartbreaking especially his confounded loss of his status (both professionally and familially) that at one point I welled up with tears as he caressed a shelve of books while dropping Frank off with his mom. Daniels has always been one of my all-time faves and a severely underrated (and underestimated actor) it's be criminal if he didn't get an Academy Award nomination.
There are some very funny moments throughout with the brothers particularly Frank's stream of profanities in frustration at the tennis lessons (no doubt from his competitive father in several sequences) and Walt's stone-cold declaration that the musical piece he will be performing, Pink Floyd's "Hey You", was written by him as an original work!
Baumbach has crafted some fine work over the years (the aforementioned masterpiece of "Kicking & Screaming" about recent college grad buds deliberately not accepting their new status in the 'real world' by refusing to adapt and his recent collaboration with executive producer and fellow auteur Wes Anderson on last year's equally sublimely funny/sad "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") and his latest, a blend of Salinger and Updike suggests a novella come to life and one of the year's finest comedic dramas.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'll go a head and warn my review contains *SPOILERS* so if you haven't
seen the film I then READ AT YOUR OWN RISK....
I went into the squid and the whale excited but realistic about my expectations for the film. I was impressed by Jesse Eisenberg in Roger Dodger and have always respected Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney and with Noah Baumbach helming I figured the movie was in capable hands. However I did fear that after viewing the trailer that I had already seen the best squid had to offer. In some ways I was right.
Firstly it deserves praise for it's portrayal of adolescent males. I found a lot of truth in Franks character. The scenes in which he studies himself in the mirror reminded me greatly of the same self absorbed and curious qualities I had at that stage in my life. However Baumbach played some of Franks sexual exploits and dirty language in a exploitive manner. The way he was portrayed made his character too much of a tool to shock the audience. In fact many scenes depicting sexuality seemed thrown in. The line were Bernard says to Lili, "Put me in your mouth" was petty and did little to reinforce any character traits that weren't already glaringly clear. I have no problem with risqué dialog or scenes that show characters in a despicable light. However that scene in particular seemed hollow. Bernard or Lili were not developed enough for me to really care that he would say something so rude to her. I already got that he was a self absorbed, loathing character. If Baumbach had used that line to trigger a stronger response in any of the three characters involved it would have felt natural. Instead we see nothing of Lili after and Walt didn't meditate very long after hearing something so low come from his father's mouth. I understand Bernard was a jerk, and used similar language around Walt. But still, it was far harsher then anything he uttered before or after. Yet no one seemed to really notice. I could see how combined with the final argument and Bernard's self absorbed lines in the hospital it could "justify" Walt to see his parents in a clearer light. Yet Baumbach let the moment pass to quickly missing what could have been a stronger beat. Which brings me to my main problem with the film. Baumbach's pacing never lets the audience into the characters heads. He throws things at you and the characters so fast that neither you nor they seem to have the time to let the emotions sink in.
The number one thing that troubled me however was the ending. I understand that Walt mentions he could never look at the squid and the whale fighting but come on! To have him go and look at a giant squid and the whale fight as a way to end the movie? Please, not only do I always question movies that use the title as a line in the film that is "really important" to the story but to have something as petty and unemotional as a character looking at a science sculpture! If it had been better shot it may have work, however I didn't even have the time to let the emotions of the scene sink in before I was slammed with a big Title Card!!! Honestly I felt I was watching an unfinished film and that the editor didn't know what to do so they just put a title card to let the audience know "yes that was all folks!"
One other thing I found useless was the "gag" although no one laughed where Joan comes out of the bathroom and the Walt says something about the nasty smell. Why include this? Was it funny? No! Was it important to the story, scene, or characters? No! All it did was leave a foul taste in my mouth for no reason.
Still for as much as I've said what didn't work Squid does have some good things going for it. I'd like to thank the whole crew for making a film about people and human relationships in a time when so many movies seem to be about nothing more then eye candy. Also big props to all the actors for fine performances.
Squid and the Whale is a much stronger film then most, which is why I was so disappointed that it couldn't rise above it's problems to be something truly special.
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