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As a writer myself, key words always come to my mind every time I sit
down to write: Write what you know. While some screenwriters choose to
write disastrous screenplays on subjects they know absolutely nothing
about, others actually take the time to write what they actually do
know. Noah Baumbach, an obvious disciple of Wes Anderson, falls into
the second category.
In his semi-autobiographical film, Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney star as Bernard and Joan Berkman. They have PhD's, and raise their two sons Walt and Frank (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) in Brooklyn. Right from the start, the audience understands that there are problems within Bernard and Joan's marriage. Soon after, they decide to separate, but share joint custody of the kids. From here, the story goes into detail as to the effects their split has on the four of them.
And while the films comes in at a brisk 81 minutes, not one moment is wasted. Baumbach has created a fabulous ode to his childhood, and puts as much emphasis on the breakup of the family unit as possible. Through the fighting, and the siding of the children, we really get an authentic sense of what it really is like to go through the destruction of the family unit, whether or not the audience has felt the same effects. The writing is bittersweet and smart, and the progression of the story is just phenomenal. It has a few comedic moments, but for the most part, the film is a wonderfully poignant drama. Whether he uses homages to other works, metaphors for other things, or if he just goes right for original elements, Baumbach is right at the top of the game. I have yet to see his other works (other than his co-written The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou), but after viewing this, I really have the desire to go and pick them right up.
The acting is excellent, and a real testament to the great casting. Daniels is perfect in his role as Bernard, a elicit and sarcastic snob to the very end. His perfection is only complemented by Linney's conflicted Joan. The two adults play off each other perfectly, and are absolutely fabulous in their roles. Unfortunately though, they are shown up totally by Eisenberg and Kline as the children. If the two adults played off each other great, than these two play off each other even better. These two young stars play their roles with just the right bit of naivety, and just the right bit of innocence and corruption, that you really feel heartbroken for what happens to them throughout the film. While sex comes up as a frequent theme, another important theme is that of growing up, and totally understanding the faults of their parents. Both of them mature throughout the entire film, and you can literally see the development of these two wonderful characters as the film unravels. Supporting turns from William Baldwin, Anna Paquin and the definite up-and-comer Halley Feiffer do not go unnoticed, and make the performances of the main cast that much better.
If these is anything I can see wrong with the film, it is that it seems a little too Anderson-esquire for it's own good. It has many original feeling moments, and is an absolute must-see film, but it just really feels like the Anderson feel has rubbed off a little too much on Baumbach. Whether this is a bad thing or not, is totally up to the viewer, but it would have been nicer to see the film be able to stand on its own away from Anderson's work. Another unnecessarily bad thing is the unrewarding finale. It fits in, but just does not feel totally right for the film, and takes away slightly from the rest of the work as a whole. The finale does end at just the right moment however, so the film never overstays its welcome, even if it feels so very short.
In the end, Baumbach has created a masterpiece with this seminal coming-of-age story. The characters, the story and the acting are all top notch, and only a few minuscule faults prevent it from being even better than it is. A must-see film for everyone.
I was shown this movie in my psychology class over the course of 2 days and I thought it was awesome in the beginning. I laughed at a lot of it and saw how the characters interactions were affecting each other. My biggest problem with the movie came at the end. The movie just ended abruptly. Everyone in my class kept asking "was that the end, is that it?" And I was right along with them. Nothing was resolved. I know, many people would say that many things aren't resolved in real life, but I don't believe movies should be that way. Who wants to intentionally become involved in character's problems only to be forced to make up your own ending to the story. At 81 minutes, the movie had plenty of time to add an extra 20 or so to help fix some things. Although it was enjoyable, I look back on the movie with a tinge of disgust for its ending or lack of ending. I would not recommend this to anyone.
This movie was highly rated by the critics, probably because of their
fear of appearing to be like the shallow "philistines" Jeff Daniels'
character speaks of as being unable to appreciate great literature and
film. Unfortunately, this is not great film. Perhaps for shallow
pseudo-intellectuals it is great film, but for anyone with a working
brain it is not.
I love to rent a movie that I've heard is good, sit down with some popcorn, and enjoy being taken away into a different world. However, when the characters in that world have no redeeming qualities and the world they inhabit is extremely boring, I become painfully aware that I'm watching a movie I hope will soon end. Thankfully this was a relatively short movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was fabulous. All of the performances were great, the script
was ironic and funny without being pretentious, and most importantly,
it stopped when it ran out of story to tell. It's like if "The Royal
Tennenbaums" was a bit more realistic, blacker, and less full of
The kid who played Walt looked like a young Kevin Bacon and did a good job. His characterization was a bit more trite - movies about family dysfunction need a cathartic character, otherwise there's no point. What I found much more interesting, however, was Frank. I can't remember a child actor who gave such an adult performance, as was required for a kid who is trying prematurely to be an adult yet going about it purely via adult vices (e.g. drinking and masturbation) out of desperation. Bernard was a bit uncomfortable for me to watch, as he became more and more petty, pathetic, and selfish as the movie went on. That was definitely the point, though, and Jeff Daniels was great at portraying it.
***** SPOILERS AHEAD ****** (But reading them can save you time and
IMDb voters: Are you crazy! Gone with the Wind by any account one of the most important and magnificent films in history, you rate as 7.9 but the meandering, poorly-written and dated schlock called The Squid and the Whale gets 8.0! Are you crazy?!
The story of a family which is breaking apart, with the parents having joint custody over their two children, Frank and Walt, which could be the basis for an excellent film.
Instead, be prepared for 80 of the most painful minutes you've spent in a theater. There's not a single sympathetic character. Everyone lies and manipulates each other and acts out their angst without regard for anyone else. Young Frank drinks and cusses like a sailor (which no one tries to correct), and smears semen in public places; high-schooler Walt plagiarizes music and adopts his father's pretensions; and the parents fight with each other and the kids for "their" nights, like five-year-olds playing marbles.
Jeff Bridges is memorable for his performance as the father, Bernie, by far the least sympathetic character. Bernard is an aging writer who's lost his inspiration and is taking out his frustration on the world, contemptuous dismissing his wife, his younger son's tennis ambitions, his older sons' girlfriend, and books and people left and right. He's so vile that he encourages his son to use women for pleasure and ditch his intelligent and sensitive girlfriend because she's not one he would "go after."
There is no ending: the film feels like an ensemble piece for the most part, but towards the last fifteen minutes unexpectedly seems to choose Walt as the protagonist. What happens? We learn when he was younger, he was frightened by a diorama of a squid and a whale fighting!
He goes back to museum, visits the diorama and voila!--the movie ends and all the other threads are suddenly dropped like dead weight. This is the closest thing to a redeeming point it has--it refuses to go on in search of a story once it realizes it never had one.
I was waiting for the "Squid and the Whale" to appear throughout the entire movie, and just when I thought it was all implied, the ending does it visual and visceral justice many times over. It's not hard to see the symbolism behind the squid and the whale forever caught in an epic struggle, and it's a nice note to end the film on. Many people will notice similarities to Wes Anderson's work, although I found this to be much darker, but appropriately so. Still, don't go into this expecting Royal to crack a few jokes about divorce, because this is all realistic, sad, true to life writing. A lot of really interesting hand-held photography makes it seem all the more real. Definitely deserves the Oscar nod.
On of my favorite activities is to get dinner ready, pour a glass of
wine (keep the bottle nearby)and start a movie I have no prior
The majority of the time this planned activity works out great. Last night though, I was incredibly disappointed in TSTW.
Now I may be a "Phillistine" only in comparison to some that really delve into a movie about hidden meanings and "sub plot outlines", but I consider myself pretty "middle of the road" when it comes to entertainment.
I guess if you have been through a divorce as a parent or child, this film may mean a bit more, otherwise, it is depressing, slow moving, and pretty disgusting whereas Character morality is concerned.
I'm more disappointed that I spent the time to stay up late and watch this.
All four of the primary characters have serious emotional / psychological problems that just continue to manifest themselves throughout the film. In addition, it would have been nice to see how the kids turned out as adults and if they were ever able to come to terms with the events that took place.
This is a very strange movie. The dialogue and the manner of filming make it feel like a small, independent film. But we have both Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney starring in this movie, which makes it more of a Hollywood film. Jeff Daniels is excellent in the movie and really stretches himself in this role. That being said, I think that the novelty of the movie is that Jeff Daniels is NOT playing to character. The charm of the movie wears off after awhile as there is really no plot, but more of a "blog" of events in one family's (dysfunctional) life. Overall I gave the movie a 6 -- excellent acting with little to no storyline. Left the movie fairly unsatisfied.
"The Squid and the Whale" is such a corrosive look at marriage and
child rearing that it could inspire a backlash among parents to ban
arts education, if not literacy altogether, from the schools in order
to prevent their children from revenging upon them as much as
writer/director Noah Baumbach does on his family, notwithstanding the
usual closing disclaimer of fiction.
Almost as raw as the old PBS documentary series "An American Family," it is such a savage look at divorce that it could also be used to discourage people from getting married in the first place, let alone having kids or considering moving to a kibbutz where the kids would be raised communally. Evidently it was cathartic for Baumbach as he did get married when the film was completed (and his now spouse is thanked in the credits).
Produced by Wes Anderson, it seems like the nonfiction inspiration for "The Royal Tenenbaums," with urban, urbane siblings who aspire to be a writer and a tennis pro. The tennis, and ping pong, images repeat continuously throughout as the kids are bounced back and forth between the parents in a very negative portrayal of competitive joint custody, where even a parent moving close by is torture - "The other side of the park - is that even in Brooklyn?", vividly demonstrating how small a kid's world is.
Baumbach has clearly studied Woody Allen movies, also in smoothly incorporating very funny lines, and he uses Brooklyn, specifically the Park Slope neighborhood, like Allen uses Manhattan, street by street, subway stop by subway stop, though this surely will reinforce every prejudice the rest of the country has against raising kids in the city. I doubt out-of-towners will understand the karmic significances of looking for and finding a parking space. The final scenes in Manhattan seem an intentionally cathartic solution as in "Saturday Night Fever."
Jeff Daniels plays an even more obnoxious father as writer than Jeff Bridges in "The Door in the Floor" (ironically, as Daniels says he's frequently mistaken for Bridges by fans). He is frighteningly judgmental, hypercritical, selfish, competitive and all around emotional abuser, and out and out neglectful, though I'm not sure Oprah would do a show about this kind of abuse. He has absolutely no sense of appropriate boundaries between his pre-adolescent/adolescent sons and himself, and involves them in way too adult views that damage how they can be age appropriate. (Though it is a bit too arch to have his writing career be on the skids while his wife's begins to flourish.)
This is one of the few films about kids I've seen lately where the use of profanity is appropriately shocking as in this hyper articulate family it is emblematic of the family's break down in communication as the kids blithely parrot what they hear at home without understanding much of what they are talking about.
The younger generation handles scabrous lines of detailed dialog magnificently. Jesse Eisenberg had to endure similarly nasty lessons about male-female relationships in "Roger Dodger" and takes it a step further here. Owen Kline, Kevin's talented son, handles with aplomb scenes that reveal quite more about pre-adolescent boys than most females, even their mothers, may comfortably want to explicitly know goes on. The lacerating men and women of "Closer" at least didn't have kids and in "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (with another tempted college professor) the kids were fairly obliviously very young. This film very clearly illuminates how brutal deteriorating parental relationships are on older children, particularly in how they relate to the opposite sex. I assume we're supposed to feel positive at the end that the kids' cries for help are finally being heard, but I'm not sure the parents have grown or changed.
The other kids in smaller parts are also very natural. Laura Linney's beauty is downplayed for some reason. She doesn't usually get to be maternal in films and she shows that warmth in lovely ways here. I'm pretty sure William Baldwin's character is intended to be both bland and annoying. Anna Paquin doesn't get much to work with as the usual student temptress in the plot, though she brings a certain ditsy cheerfulness to the role.
The music is wonderful, including a score by Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham of Luna. A Loudon Wainwright song, who has written extensively of similar father/son issues, closes over the credits. Pink Floyd figures in the plot and it is a bit hard to believe that the parents of Park Slope in 1985 were not familiar with Roger Waters.
This is not a date movie -- unless you want to break up with the person afterwards or tell your spouse you want a divorce or tell your significant other you definitely never want to have kids.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I can't remember the last time a movie has so effectively set up the
premise and conflict for the entire film in just its opening scene.
Bernard and Walt are teamed up against Joan and Frank in a tennis
match. The heated play of both teams not only hints at favoritism but
it foreshadows a marriage that is on the breaking point.
Even though it runs at a terse 88 minutes, "The Squid and the Whale" is a personal and engrossing look at an American family in Brooklyn during the 1980s. Based on the childhood of director Noah Baumbach, the film centers around the divorce of Bernard and Joan Berkman and the effect it has on their two sons, Walt and Frank, after they decide on a joint custody.
Bernard, played memorably by Jeff Daniels, is a pompous intellectual whose literary career has hit a snag. His pompous nature enables him to suggest that "A Tale of Two Cities" is "minor Dickens" and that Franz Kafka is his predecessor. After the divorce, Bernard has an affair with Lili (Anna Paquin), one of his students. Joan, a role perfectly fitted for Laura Linney, has been having an affair with their tennis coach, Ivan (William Baldwin), and we do not necessarily blame her for it. Walt, one of Eisenberg's best performances, absorbs everything his father says, which includes relationship advice. Although he has a girlfriend, Walt is infatuated by Lili and wants to play the field. Frank (Owen Kline) is going through puberty as he constantly masturbates and leaves a trace of it around the school.
While the plot is minimal in the film, the strength lies in the profundity of the characters. The movie works in that it relies on the conflict of these characters to drive the story forward. More importantly, Baumbach does a great job at keeping the viewer in a neutral position. All the characters have their flaws; yet, we remain equally empathetic to all of them. While the boys and parents seem to take sides, the spectator is not driven to quick conclusions. We understand that the characters are profound human beings who are not wholly good or bad. That is the power of "The Squid and the Whale."
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