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The Squid and the Whale
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Squid and the Whale More at IMDbPro »

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Rich and downright enjoyable.

9/10
Author: Jamie Ward from United Kingdom
19 July 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Don't most of your friends already have divorced parents?" "Yeah, but, I don't." Telling the all too familiar tale of a family driven apart by divorce, The Squid and the Whale which comes as a semi-autobiography of sorts penned by Noah Baumbach at times feels like it was written by anyone who's gotten out of such a situation alive, and is still able to see the funny side. Told as a rather straight-forward character drama with some great comedic moments interspersed throughout, Baumbach's story here feels rich in nuanced, down-to-earth characterisation and conflict that never feels tacked on or contrived. Yet neither does his script get bogged down by melodrama and become too self-serious (in fact, it hardly even reaches any semblance of genre grimness you may expect at all), maintaining a stern but somewhat neurotic grip on its story at hand—that is, of his parent's divorce and his resulting relationship with them both alongside his younger brother.

Played out by a terrific ensemble cast who nail each individual quirk present in Baumbach's script whilst maintaining a sense of reality and fragile unity between the four, the performances, alongside the director's characters make for a movie that always maintains its charm and interest. Indeed, for a character-drama such as what Baumbach has thus far made a career out of (for the most part), The Squid and the Whale does tremendously well in making sure these characters jump out at you, but never to your dismay. While each has their vices, Baumbach embeds his own personal feelings and ties to these people within the script to the point that they feel genuinely human—and this is perhaps the movie's biggest selling point brought into clear focus by the performances given by a surprisingly intense Daniels, a captivating Linney, the always engaging Eisenberg and a hilariously concise break- out outing for young Owen Kline.

To be fair, The Squid and the Whale is not without its rough spots; half of the movie's somewhat maudlin third act is hard to swallow after the preceding, less dramatic acts, and there are a few secondary characters who may serve as interesting catalysts to shift things around, yet such tepid moments are so far and few between that they hardly make an impact at all. Instead what you are left to experience is a terrific little movie about a less-than-terrific little marriage which gave birth to one of cinema's most interesting, yet cathartic humanistic families full of pathos and—well—character. So too often are we forced to endure cookie- cutter family dramas whether it's on the big screen or the small screen that it can be something of a miracle that a story as rich and downright enjoyable as The Squid and the Whale manages to elbow its way to the front of the queue. And hey, for a movie centred around divorce, a self- centred husband, a promiscuous wife, and two confused teenagers (one who thinks Pink Floyd beat him to writing Hey You by a technicality, and the other who partakes every once in a while in getting drunk or masturbating in public and wiping his semen wherever he pleases), that's quite something.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

jusco's review: The Squid and the Whale

9/10
Author: jusco15
24 December 2010

Indie films always works its magic on me. Maybe it's because I'm an artsy type of person, looking for some meaning so complex it's impossible to find and comprehend. Or maybe I just simply enjoy the complicated blend of emotions these films invoke because it is so reality grounded, so personal, that I feel for the characters. There is a sort of intimacy that allows me to relate more closely to the people involved in often painful, often heartbreaking, and ironically, often hilarious drama.

The Squid and the Whale is semi-autobiographical, based on Noah Baumbach's own life. Set in Brooklyn, NY in 1986, the story involves a family filled with tension. You sense it right from the start, and you can easily guess what's going to happen. The parents, after being married for 17 years, are fed up with each other and announce to their two boys their imminent separation, leading to joint custody. They were a normal family; in fact, a bit more intellectual and sophisticated than most – both parents are phD holders in English literature, which naturally leads to conversations about Dickens and Kafka over the dinner table. Even the children (one in high school, the other in middle school) seem a bit more mature. But when various rumours that turn out to be truths emerge, relations are all the more strained. What results is a family war, the children forced to take sides with either one of their parents.

At times, this film is excruciating to watch. It is so real and raw (and that can be accredited to the director's personal experiences). Both children figure out their own ways of dealing with the shock, be it through girlfriends or beer. At the same time, the parents are in agony; can this marriage still be saved? Ultimately, though, it seems as though all is lost. Everything seems to sink into quiet solitariness.

However, this film is not all bleak and desolate. In fact, one might even get a glimpse of hope at the end through the older son's exploration of the past, of memories, of one's own actions and regretful consequences (played by Jesse Eisenberg – it's a shame he wasn't well-known before The Social Network, for he truly shines here). Through various prejudices, assumptions and revelations, we are invited to meditate on life. Along with the characters, we are led on a journey of constant discovery. And though everything may seem dismal and unpromising, there is still the possibility of unearthing redemption, however small it may turn out to be. But then again, sometimes that small spark is just what we need.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

An honest, funny, and different indie film

9/10
Author: Jenna from United States
4 August 2010

A semi-autobiographical indie film about a quirky, dysfunctional family could go a number of ways. It could be self-indulgent, cutesy, pretentious, or just plain annoying. Its attempts at humor and originality could fall flat.

But this isn't the case with The Squid and the Whale, the story of a family after the parents have agreed to separate and share joint custody of their two troubled sons. The screenplay is superb, filled with uniquely funny lines, true observations, and insults that sting. Screenwriter/director Noah Baumbach had worked with producer Wes Andersen on The Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the film unsurprisingly has a Wes Andersen vibe to it. Andersen's films, however, are so unusual that they seem to take place in a rarefied otherworld. Baumbach has dug into his own experience to create something honest, real, and relatable no matter what your family experience is.

Aside from the screenplay and direction, the performances are so good it is often unclear who the main character is. Each member of Bachman family is hilariously flawed yet strangely likable. Jeff Daniels is hysterical as the unabashedly self-centered father who is also a creative-writing teacher. Laura Linney as the well-meaning mom is the heart of the movie, and as usual she so embodies her character that it never seems like she is acting. Jesse Eisenberg is the quintessential pretentious nerd – I can see why he was cast in Network. Owen Kline as the oddball younger son is endearing. The supporting performers – Billy Baldwin as the hippieish tennis instructor, Anna Paquin as the sexy graduate student, and Halley Feiffer as Eisenberg's sweet but ordinary girlfriend – are perfectly cast. Baldwin's character is particularly funny.

It's delightful, smart, and different. I didn't expect I would like it, but at the end all I could think was "I want more!"

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Great casting, disappointing and predictable

2/10
Author: grahammorrison12 from United Kingdom
30 December 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had very high hopes about this film, i watched Greenberg last night and really enjoyed that so i thought that i would check out The Squid and the Whale. After hearing mostly positive reviews i was fairly certain i would appreciate this. The film felt like it lasted a lot longer than it did, i kept checking the time-line to see how much more of the film i had to watch, as i found myself asking "surely thats been 80 minuets now. it was also very hard to connect with, feel sorry or even like any of the characters with the exception of Sophie and the cat. in saying this i am not saying that the cast were bad quite the opposite, hat goes of to Daniels i thought he was terrific its just a shame he was playing such an ass-hole of a character. As the film went on i wasn't even having to think about how it was going to unfold, i felt i could have just watched the first 30 minuets of the film and could figure the rest of it out.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

muddy plot yet great acting

6/10
Author: oprahhhhhhh from United States
24 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Despite the fine performances of all actors in The Squid and the Whale, the strength of this movie is overshadowed by the outrageous and underdeveloped plot line. The story is about two brothers, Walt and Frank Berkman, whose parents, Bernard and Joan, are going through a very difficult divorce. Throughout the ordeal, each child slowly moves towards one of the parents. Walt, pushed away from his mother when Bernard reveals that she had countless affairs, becomes his father, taking up his idioms, demeanor and literary criticisms. Frank also encountersa change, talking crudely, drinking alcohol and masturbating in school. Eventually, both parents move toward other people, however brief the encounters may be. In the end, Bernard collapses outside his old apartment after being rejected by his ex-wife, and Walt realizes that he truly does love his mother. Despite the blatantly crude story, the plot is very underdeveloped. As the only conflict that is solved in the end is the one between Walt and his mother, that should be what the rest of the movie should focus on, right? Actually, the rest of the movie deviates into other tangents, only briefly touching on the point that Joan truly does love her son. The only thing that makes up for the characters' horrid nature is the actors, who superbly made each one of them come to life. I give this movie a six

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Whale Chewing Squid Frightens Child

9/10
Author: mike rice (mike235@charter.net) from Sparta, Wisconsin 54656
6 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play husband and wife Bernard and Linda Berkman. They live in Park Slope in Brooklyn. Both are PHDs in their forties. Bernie has had a couple of novels published and teaches at a local college. His wife apparently stays home with their two boys.

The dilemma of the two boys, Walt, roughly 15, and Frank, 11, is that their folks are breaking up and they aren't making it easy on their two kids. In fact, they're making it very hard.

There will be two homes, and each kid will switch to the other parents house each day. It is never discussed but that means the two boys never get to live together. The screenplay never even presents this as a problem for the two boys.

Bernie immediately strikes the audience as totally selfish and self-serving, and his oldest son Walt is his totally naive acolyte. When Bernie says Kafka's Metamorphosis is the ultimate book, Walt peddles the same stuff to a potential girlfriend. His high school counselor detects instantly that he has not read the book or any of the others he claims knowledge of. But Bernie develops self-serving alibis for Walt, like he does for himself, which is probably why Bernie's career as a novelist ended in his twenties.

The two parents are mostly unaware their kids are falling apart emotionally. Frank is still a kid but he has begun masturbating in elementary school and wiping the residue on selected girls' lockers. His brother has presented a song to an audience at a high school talent contest as his own, when it is really the work of a famous member of a rock group.

Walt is having trouble at Dad's too. Bernie has mostly resisted the potential groupie students in the literature courses he teaches. But then he finds out about the affairs Linda has been having with men in the neighborhood, even the kids' lame tennis teacher Ivan, played by William Baldwin.

Bernie invites one of the more forward groupies at the college to live temporarily at the house. Walt has a high school girl roughly his own age he is working on, but his father's student is starting to rouse him too.

Meanwhile, Frank, though only 11, has begun to drink beer and whiskey, and both kids swear and use foul language in front of both their parents. The key thing here is the two boys are losing it more each day and all Bernie can do is try and poison Walt against Linda. Linda too is unaware of the disintegration of her two boys. She's got a career to run.

It all comes to a head when Walt confesses to the school counselor that he used to like his mother some when they watched Robin Hood together on television, and when she reassured him after he saw the picture of an enormous whale swallowing the squid at the Museum of Natural History. He liked her before his brother Frank was born. A light bulb goes off in the heads of the audience but the school counselor still looks a little clueless.

Bernie is now so out of it with loss, he comes to Linda's house and asks if she would consider having him back. Linda laughs at this but the kids, both of them present, begin to wise up to the mendacity of their father and the new emerging confidence of their Mom. While Bernie's career is in limbo, Linda publishes a novel Bernie warned she would never be able to complete, and gets a short story published in the New Yorker.

Bernie's behavior is transparent to the audience throughout the movie. He is a total user, but Frank has sided with his mother and Walt with his Dad.

I was laughing at Bernie and Linda, mostly Bernie, though Linda has many moments too. The two parents were letting their kids regularly insult them, but when 15 year old Walt calls his mom a bitch, even Linda is alarmed and complains. This is when the two kids start to realize their parents particularly Bernie, have clay feet. Walt stops listening to his father, though Bernie has collapsed in the street from something and has had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance.

When the kids realize Bernie has been using them, the recovery is underway. Now that they know it isn't they who are screwed up, the two boys can begin to recover.

The film was written and directed by Noah Baumbach, whose parents himself and his brother are the subjects of this true story. Jeff Daniels gives his best performance ever, Laura Linney is fearless as Bernie's distraught wife. The two young actors who play the sons come close to breaking the hearts of the audience toward the end. The film is not a tragedy, its a tragicomedy.

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9 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Wow This Must Be Deep

5/10
Author: scafeets from United States
23 December 2005

It doesn't happen often; but every once in a while, a movie comes along where you dislike every single character. This is one of the few distinctions The Squid and the Whale enjoys. It's hard to make a grade school kid vile and creepy, but director Noah Baumbach accomplishes this and much more. Said to be autobiographical, his cruelty to the family unit is matched by liberal doses of self-loathing and a penchant for making the movie audience squirm. If you like your movies as a slice-of-life, maybe this is for you. Portraying a dysfunctional family going through a divorce, you'll never pick a side since both parties to the disunion are completely repugnant, self-centered and insufferable in equal doses. There's no witty dialog, no action, no interesting cinematography, very little humor -- just familial bickering in a familiar setting. And one of the all-time worst soundtracks you'll ever sit through, with the exception of Pink Floyd's "Hey You" which is pretty much the redundant high point for this film. Allegedly but anachronistically set in 1986, the movie wastes fine acting performances by Jeff Daniels and Jesse Eisenberg, who can't save this slag heap of a story. Run,don't walk to another theater.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Pointless

1/10
Author: barlowralph from United States
23 January 2014

If there was any particular point to be made, or lesson to be learned from this movie, it was obscured to the point of being entirely unrecognizable. The five most prominent characters in the story are uniformly without any kind of appeal, and seem to have only their own narcissistic egotistical requirements in view. There is nothing here to suggest that the viewer should have any kind of empathy or sympathy for any of these people. The dialogue was generously peppered with f***s and sh**s and god-dammits which only served to diminish my already-low interest. I only stayed to the end with this movie because I kept hoping there was something more to it. There wasn't. It was a waste of my time.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

a winner - and i don't know exactly why

9/10
Author: zif ofoz from United States
6 May 2013

there is no 'plot' to this wonderful indie flick! it's just a look at a family falling apart and the parents unwilling to meet the other half-way and the negative and positive effects on the children.

this is one of those movies you can watch over and over and over and always find something new and interesting in the dialog and the character each actor portrays. the more you watch the more complex each member of this family becomes. it is almost as if you must view the film once for each character in the four member family.

each one learns a lesson about himself and just growing up living daily life in a upper middle class and possibly over educated family.

i enjoyed this movie for many reasons!

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A Family Divided

8/10
Author: claire-cec from United States
12 November 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My parents have been together since they were freshmen in high school, so it is always interesting for me to witness the dynamic of a split family. Sure my family isn't perfect, in fact my father was away working for most of my childhood, but it has never been quite as dysfunctional as the family Noah Baumbach so lovingly portrays in this film.

The film has a stellar storyline with its dark dialogue and its spurts of comedic relief, and just its total reality. But the actors are what really make this film. Laura Linney is one of the best, under-appreciated actresses in holiday, and Jeff Daniels has this amazing way of playing a totally likable A**hole. And let's not forget Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline's amazing performance as messed up kids. All of the actors/characters really suck you in, and make you feel like you are experiencing their pain first hand. It is awesome.

Funny, dark, depressing and so accurate, this movie takes you inside the war zone that is a divided family, and magically, you come out unscathed. Watch. Learn. Enjoy.

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