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The Squid and the Whale
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The Squid and the Whale More at IMDbPro »

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23 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

"The Squid and the Whale" may leave you in need of therapy

Author: bscowler from Seattle, WA
28 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach's tale of his incredibly dysfunctional family could easily have been re-named "The Addams Family - 1986". The film recounts his ugly childhood with his younger brother, his writer-father and aspiring writer-mother living in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1986. His father Bernard, played revoltingly well by Jeff Daniels, has absolutely no concept of what's going on outside of his own world as he spews obscenities and dwells on his past as a respected writer; of course now no one wants anything to do with his writing so he teaches English instead (Gee, haven't we see that a few hundred times in films?)Bernard's wife Joan, played by a mousy Laury Linney, decide that after many years of marriage that divorce is the best option; which seems odd considering that they have nothing good to say about each other and that Joan has had affairs with at least four different men during their marriage. Why they don't continue with this nightmarish marriage isn't explained; there isn't a catalyst for this decision. Once the separation occurs and Bernard relocates several blocks away to a house of lesser amenities the film shifts focus to the effect the separation has on the two children; Walt and Frank Berkman. Walt, played by a brow-furrowed Jesse Eisenberg, idolizes his father and models his view of the world after Bernard's twisted vision. The majority of observations from Walt's mouth are direct quotes from his father, yet instead of revealing the depth of admiration Walt has for his father these comments simply show Walt as being shallow and pathetic. We wait for Walt to develop a mind of his own but sadly that never happens. Frank, played mincingly by Owen Kline, steals the film as the repulsive chronic masturbator who leaves his calling card on any non-human surface. At one point Joan and Bernard get their child custody duties mixed up and accidentally leave Frank alone for three days. Frank spends the time drinking Scotch, masturbating to his mom's underwear, and passing out on the bathroom floor. The next scene is Joan and Bernard being confronted by the school counselor. What happened for the rest of Frank's long weekend? A nine year old boy left alone with hard liquor and a Oedipal complex is a film in itself, but we aren't allowed to witness this, or a scene where the parents find Frank near death from alcohol poisoning (assuming that could have easily happened) lying in a pile of his mother's panties. The rest of the film is filled with Walt's blatant plagiarism, a non-stop stream of offensive cursing, arguments, premature ejaculation, Bernard allowing his dinner guests at restaurants to only order half-orders because he's so cheap, unbelievable therapy sessions, Bernard trying to force his female student and border to perform oral sex only to be interrupted by his son, and a medical emergency that is offered as redemption but fails. Contrary to reviews I've read, there is nothing charming, endearing, funny, or clever about this film. It truly boggles my mind that most critics enjoyed this film. The only reason I can conjure is that most of these critics were raised in a family as hellish as this one so it's like spending time with old, heavily medicated friends. If this film's final scene was of the four Berkman's going for a hot air balloon ride over the Catskills, and the balloon crashing in flames into the mountains with no survivors, then I just might have walked out of the theater with a smile on my face. As it is, this a slice of American ugliness that no one should have to endure.

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19 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Psychological War of the Roses

Author: nycritic
8 February 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When husband and wife decide to split, the only ones who get hurt are the children, and even though Joan and Bernard Berkman are in the center of their nasty divorce, their two sons -- Frank and Walt -- are the ones going through the trauma. Noah Baumbach wrote and directed this insightful, biting story of a family deadlocked in its inner battles based on his own life experiences and the result is bittersweet.

Bernard claims to have been an influential author of novels who has fallen on hard times. Frank idolizes him and has the same clipped, insolent tones as if he were talking to an admiring audience. Bernard openly attacks his wife Joan as if it were a requisite for their marriage to exist and Frank decides he too can't stand her. On the other hand, Joan, once Bernard casually reveals her affair with a neighbor, is coming into her own as a writer and as selfish as she may seem at times, she's the better person in the marriage. Walt, the youngest son, tilts towards her but is going through his own inner changes and is expressing it through masturbation -- especially on library books and his mother's lingerie.

After the Berkman's separate, Bernard and the boys move into the new house -- a rickety place within the vicinity -- and Joan initiates her life with Ivan, Walt's tennis tutor. A quadrangle and a triangle of sorts develops when Bernard rents a room to one of his female students, Lili, and begins a tentative affair with her. Frank, who is going out with a girl he seems embarrassed to be seen with, also pines and almost succeeds in seducing Lili. His father even encourages it. Events involving Bernard's and Joan's war eventually lead to a nasty head which will make Frank take a decision about himself.

What makes THE SQUID AND THE WHALE such a great little film is how natural it seems at all turns and how slice of life it is. I kept getting references from French New Wave all over the place. Baumbach writes his characters like real people at all times. Bernard's relationship with his sons is real. Look at when he and Walt curse over losing a table tennis match in almost exact verbal intonations, or when both he and Frank lock themselves in their elitist world and chatter about Kafka, how Bernard has decided he was once a brilliant writer which may or not be true, and how "A Tale of Two Cities" was a lesser Dickens as if reading it meant getting an eye infection. Frank, in imitating his father's worst traits, when it is discovered that a song he'd written was in fact a song by Pink Floyd and in a Ted Bundy style argues that "it was as if he had written it so it was his by appropriation" exposes him for the empty snob he is on the inside. Joan, while a little unsympathetic here and there, is a real human and one who maintains her composure when its clear her writing career is on the rise even if her family is about to implode. When she propitiates the demise of her family it's at first seen as an act of selfish abandonment, but one look at Bernard and his abrasive, self-obsessed, hurtful personality and all is explained. Now, Walt has a more internal character development despite some verbal outbursts at the beginning of the movie. Once the family is divided and he is left increasingly alone, his psyche begins delving into his own sexual awakening which under the detached music of Tangerine Dream is seen as something he himself doesn't understand. It's clear he's more tolerant of the two brothers and able to accept Ivan -- an much better guy as his mother's new guy.

There's also an interesting subtext involving the film BLUE VELVET that may or nor may be intentional. While Frank invites his father to see SHORT CIRCUIT, his father arrogantly puts that film down (for being commercial) and decides they will see BLUE VELVET. The climactic scene where the main characters converge at the Williams' household seems to open a door to Frank's sexual fascination with brunettes and fuses his progressive revulsion of Sophie, a dead ringer for Laura Dern. The appearance of the dark-haired Lili increases this -- she holds within a similar mystique that lures Frank and leads him to push Sophie away in a painful scene.

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is a sharp domestic drama about bitter people caught within their own patterns of behavior and it lingers on after its abrupt but symbolic ending. Even with Walt's forays into bizarre behavior, which is not as disturbing as a part of a boy's growth, it's Frank -- Noah Baumbach's apparent alter-ego -- who has the moment of clarity to see things as they really are and not be a figment of his father's poison. The moment he realizes he has been a pawn in a needless war between Bernard and Bernard -- not Bernard and Joan as initially depicted, he does what anyone would have done: run and let his feet and instinct take him to the truth.

And as is the case with these kinds of movies, all of the performances are on-target. Laura Linney continues on her winning streak of textured, modern women. Jeff Daniels made me feel like I was in the presence of a real jerk who could have a moment of sympathy but chose to remain locked in his delusions, and that takes guts. Ditto of Jesse Eisenberg who at times reminded me of Ted Bundy. Anna Paquin and William Baldwin fill out believable people with their minimal scenes and Owen Kline made me think of an adult trapped in a kid's body. Overall, this is a near-perfect film from start to finish.

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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

A major disappointment

Author: Vash2001 from Arizona, USA
27 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I heard this movie was an Oscar contender and had received rave reviews from critics. I am among the few that found it totally tasteless. The topic was good- divorce and its effect on a family. The acting was stellar by all 4 main characters. However, the foul language by just about every character, in nearly every scene, and some very offensive actions were too much for me.

There was humor in the movie, and some of it was even good but it was often contaminated with the offensive language. I am not puritanical; I can handle four letter words but they should not dominate the dialog the way it did in this movie.

Inspite of that, the movie held my interest until it came to a crashing end.

SPOILERS ahead..............

What really disappointed me was the ending. It was too abrupt, too vague, and basically it was not like an ending. It is OK to have an open ended 'ending', that is subject to interpretation, but it needs to flow better. This one did not. I had to wait until 90 percent of the movie was over to hear 'The squid and the whale' and shortly after that the movie ended, with these two entities in the museum.

Overall, a bid disappointment. I have no problem with Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney getting Oscar nominations (if they do); they deserve them, but the movie as a whole does not work. JMHO.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

The New York Intelligensia Behaving Badly

Author: (dj_bassett) from Philadelphia
17 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A family breaks apart, mainly because the father is an irredeemable prick.

Not bad, though the critics have been overrating this one -- I suspect because many of them recognize themselves in the characters. (This is the SIDEWAYS of 2005.) It's most notable for Daniels's excellent performance: he is fantastic as the selfish, narcissistic, self-pitying, pompous, cheapskate burnt-out writer. It's a caricature, but a wickedly accurate one of a certain type.

As for the rest of the movie, though, it's okay but plays it too predictable within it's mini-genre. The battle lines are too clearly drawn, we know from the start who's side we should be on. The strained metaphor of the squid and the whale is worked at dutifully, but uninterestingly. The two big music pieces in the movie come from Roger Waters-era Floyd and Lou Reed, which for a certain pretentious generation are as much totems as anything Daniels character spits out. (This could be meant ironically, but I suspect not -- it's probably more symptomatic of the movie's essential unreflectiveness.)

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22 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

So horrible.

Author: Marina from United States
18 June 2007

Ugh. The other reviews note that this story is based on Noah Baumbach's own story of his parent's divorce. But if it's true, does that make him the plagiarizer or the potty-mouthed serial masturbator? It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to immortalize their family with these sloppily constructed, clichéd caricatures of the sort of people you might have found in Park Slope in the 80's. The parents exhibit a reprehensible lack of concern for their kids as they finally arrive at divorce. The mother character is not expanded much beyond showing that she bore her dissatisfaction with her husband by having numerous affairs times during the course of the marriage. The father character is shown as an insecure blow-hard, affected more by his wife's professional success than by her infidelities. The children are, essentially, little versions of their parents, and are emotionally victimized by each of the parents in their (supposed) struggle to cope with their divorce. They develop disturbing habits, which are ill-addressed by the parents who are too busy wallowing in their own miseries to effectively address their children's' unspoken cries for help.

This poor character development & over-abundance of unseemly airing of personal grievance make this film feel like a student film. A BAD student film.

On the up side, Park Slope was perfectly captured & portrayed, instantly recognizable. I don't know how a big a deal that is considering that it hasn't changed all that much since.

This film was a disappointment.

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36 out of 66 people found the following review useful:

Tortuous and unpleasant entertainment

Author: acricketer from United States
12 March 2006

This is an awful film. It seems that the more pointless, introverted ( there is nothing for the audience here )and desolate a movie, the more its applauded. "If you don't get it darling, you don't understand art" What is entertaining about a bunch of very unhappy, unpleasant people being unhappy and unpleasant to each other? Clearly it has struck a chord with the intellectual crowd who recognize the types in themselves or others they know. Its 'a.. look, aren't I clever" movie, and "I must be clever to get people to pay to see this and say nice things about it (morons!)" It is self seeking and self indulgent. The acting is good. The folks are caricatures that make you despair for hope, goodness and love of your fellow man. If life is like this film portrays, pray for an alternative.

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38 out of 70 people found the following review useful:

A Differing Opinion

Author: auriferous from Maryland
3 January 2006

Judging by most of the reviews on these pages and elsewhere, one might think this movie was a minor masterpiece, some deep insightful exploration of the American family. It is not. It is a pointless, meandering depiction of self-destructive and fairly uninteresting people. There's hardly a plot to speak of, and the acting, while OK, is nothing spectacular. The characters portrayed in this film are the kind of people you probably would not want to spend five minutes with were they real people, so why pay money to spend an hour and a half with them in a movie theater? (That, by the way, is the review. But IMDb seems to think that one cannot say something worth publishing in less than 10 lines.)

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7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

"Superficial and Detached"

Author: louchelle23 from Toronto
7 October 2011

When I saw that this film was directed by the brilliant writer/director Noah Baumbach, I was excited. However, when I bought this film without seeing it beforehand...I immediately regretted it. "The Squid and the Whale" is an extremely pretentious film with a very stilted script and a very disappointing performance from all of the cast except for Owen Kline. The overall feel of the film was scripted, stilted, and superficial; and I was hoping that the acting would save this awful film but it didn't. I even thought that Anna Paquin's acting was sub-par, given her small yet important role in the film. I wanted to like this movie...I did...but I just couldn't in the end. So I give this film 1 of 10 stars. And I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone...except for insomniacs. Actually...not even them.

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9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Brilliant and Awkward and Everything in Between

Author: thewalrus8 from Canada
17 September 2006

Not being a child from a product of divorce, after seeing this movie I can appreciate the push and pull that manifests from divorce. Now, I am positive that not all broken homes are this broken, but Noah Baumbauch creates an environment that makes you squirm and want to cry all at the same time. All of the performances are near perfection and are executed with utmost conviction. I find that Jeff Daniels is one of those actors who get better with every movie he does. He is completely unlikeable in this movie yet you feel for him and you want him to get it together. Very few actors can play a prick and yet you are rooting for him and there are a few points in the film where you even buy into his bullshit as much as his oldest son (played by Jesse Eisenberg) does. The Squid and The Whale is not the most uplifting of fare, but it is a must view for anybody who appreciates film, not movies, film.

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10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Very real learning experience, but ultimately boring

Author: siderite from Romania
13 July 2006

This movie is a good film, that's for sure. The actors perform brilliantly and the script is original and touching. However, all this is boring.

I guess people with an interest in the social aspect of one's life will find this very nice and good. For the parents (and children) who are on the same path as the character, should they choose to really understand the movie, it will be a learning experience that will save them from a lot of pain and anguish.

OK, the guy is a cowardly hypocrite that hides behind his intellectual aura tons of frustration and, surely enough, stupidity. The woman leaves a life of discomfort and maybe even fear, but lacks the courage to do anything about it. She cheats on the husband then leaves clues to it, so that the responsibility of the divorce would fall on him. The sons pick sides based on age, both mimicking behaviour that they don't understand yet, and thus making fools of themselves. Very weird and socially tense situations, but that's it. After the first half an hour you know everything there is to know, only the awkward situations remain, in a hostile, not humorous manner.

The ending is as devoid of resolution as the entire content. The problems are there, you know what, where, when and how, but there is no solution. In the end, the film is nothing but a portrait, you either like it or you don't.

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