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The Squid and the Whale More at IMDbPro »

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

An honest, funny, and different indie film

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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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Baumbach takes a major step forward as a filmmaker with this film.

Author: G K from Mars
11 May 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The film is bitterly funny about divorce, it's even sharper and more original about intellectuals and their discontent. Two teenage boys in 1980s Brooklyn watch with horror as their writer parents' once happy marriage slowly collapses into bitterness. After their split, the boys are coerced into taking sides.

The Squid And The Whale is a coming-of-age story as well as an account of a failing marriage; superlatively well-acted, with Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney in peak form. Director Noah Baumbach also wrote the perceptive, acutely observed and loosely autobiographical script, which is wonderfully literate and witty.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The Squid and the Whale

Author: film_riot from Austria
24 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is what I call fresh film-making. With "The Squid and the Whale", writer-director Noah Baumbach made a funny, sad, intelligent and sometimes bizarre film with great characters. If you haven't heard anything of it before you might think you're watching the latest Wes Anderson-film because of the characters. The father (brilliantly played by Jeff Daniels): a writer without success, but a huge ego. The mother (equally brilliant: Laura Linney): the most "normal" of the bunch, with an interesting taste in men. The kids (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline): playing cover versions of Pink Floyd and pretending having written them themselves or masturbating and spreading the semen on books and school lockers. But "The Squid and the Whale" has more than just its characters. It's a precise analysis of family divorce and the dynamics behind it. When mother and son are done with blaming each other and are starting to try to understand what each of them is going through, that is actually a really heart-warming moment. And if I'm allowed to say it, also a typical Wes Anderson-moment.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Indie at its finest

Author: Patryk Czekaj from Warsaw
25 October 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is one of those indie flicks that make you realize the great magic of the independent movie industry. We, regular people, don't get to see them very often. They aren't as popular as the tremendously expensive studio productions. Nevertheless, sometimes those low budget indie pictures make us debate over their importance in our modern world. The Squid and the Whale won two awards at the prestigious Sundance Festival. It wasn't really a surprise, because the story told in this movie is a one-of-a-kind experience. Two boys (Walt and Frank), aged 16 and 12, living in Brooklyn, NYC, go through a rough time, while their parents are in the middle of a divorce. Devastated, they start to perceive the world in a different way, make their private mother-father choices and interfere with the wrong parts of their lives. But most importantly, they grow up in front of their parents. Sexual tension is all over these young boys, which seems to cause a serious problem at school and at home. Even the parents have their moments of abeyance, while flirting with some new lovers. Fortunately, the boys occasionally find the right paths and realize that the love of a parent doesn't depend on the two of them being together, but on their honest dedication. The bright star of this movie is Jesse Eisenberg – this is the role that paved him a way to another great productions. Also, Owen Kline as a young, lost kid is really convincing. Personally, I consider the role of Lili (Anna Paquin) as the one, who deserver the most credit. She is not only a student and lover of the boys' father, Bernard, but also Walt's love object. Even though this flick isn't a no-brainer, but exactly the opposite, it can be understandable to anyone. Especially, people, who had to go over by such a trauma, would feel that the portrayal is realistic in many various ways. Finally, I would like to recommend this movie to everyone as a reminder of the old times, when a low budget and lack of special effects didn't mean that the movie wouldn't be a hit. I would also love to see more independent productions, which are made with such passion.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

But you didn't write it.

Author: Meganeguard from Kansas
7 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Living within the posh Brownstones of Brooklyn, New York, the author Bernard Berkman seems to live an ideal life: he is well off financially, has a great mind filled with knowledge about film and literature, and has a family consisting of a wife, two sons, and a cat. However, things are not quite as ideal, are they ever?, as they seem on the surface. While he was once a noted writer of literary fiction, few publishers are now, 1986, interested in his manuscripts while his wife's writing begins to pick up steam. Highly competitive and suffering from a strong sense of insecurity that many successful individuals display. Bernard becomes extraordinarily pedantic and attempts to hold off others from breaking through his shell. Absolutely miserable in their relationship, Bernard's wife Joan seeks solace with other men and it is obvious through their actions with each other that Bernard and Joan have come to disdain each other. Bernard constantly states that he was not commercially successful enough to please his wife. Caught in the crossfire of this failing marriage are of course their children: Walt and Frank.

Walt, who idolizes his dad, is quite emotionally distant as well and supports his dad no matter what and Frank, the younger of the two sons, supports his mother. One day after a particularly venom filled tennis match between Bernard and Walt and Joan and Franks, a family meeting is called and Bernard and Joan inform Walt and Frank that they intend to separate and that they will have joint custody of the boys who will spend three days a week at the home of each parent with Thursday alternating each week. Of course Walt and Frank dislike this proposal, but what can they do? They are minors and have to go along with the system. Even after the break up the animosity between Bernard and Joan is felt and it affects Walt and Frank greatly with the former becoming even more withdrawn and full of vitriol and the latter delving into alcohol.

The Squid and the Whale is basically an 81 minute film about a bitter divorce of two intellectuals who seemingly were quite at odds with each other for a number of years. Jeff Daniel's portrayal of Bernard is magnificent and his character is thoroughly unlikable,but it would be too easy to just demonize Bernard, each character has their own flaws which we are treated to in this film. Also, the film's music is absolutely superb with the likes of Loudon Wainwright III and Lou Reed.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

muddy plot yet great acting

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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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Sad that it ended

Author: F_Jenkins from la
24 April 2006

Someone had the best heading in their comments; "Cast of champions." Never was there a truer statement. This movie has such a superb cast and script, I really wanted it to go longer. The kids were great. No angst ridden, mean spirited kids who recited "I hate you" every other sentence (although there is tension between the kids and parents, it's not the clichéd, unlikeable kids you see in every other movie).

I guess Bill Murray was supposed to play the father originally but Jeff Daniels was excellent here, I wouldn't have wanted this movie cast in any other way, even with the Baldwin brother who says "my brother" at the end of every sentence.

Every scene is short, it's that Sidney Lumet-type quick scene, on to the next one here, and it works so great.

A true triumph, I loved everything about this film and recommend it highly to everyone.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

It was 1986, and the 17 year marriage was coming unraveled.

Author: TxMike from Houston, Tx, USA, Earth
19 April 2006

I mused as I watched this movie, they were married in 1969, and 17 years later, in 1986, they found themselves only able to get a divorce. I married in 1968, and 17 years later, in 1985, I was also getting a divorce. Like that couple, I don't think I ever knew for sure why.

Jeff Daniels is Bernard Berkman, professor and author who was absolutely manipulative, of his students, his wife, their sons -- whatever it took to get past the moment. He loved no one, not even himself, and got great joy out of such conquests as beating his young son in ping-pong. And giving his teenage son advice to play the field, women are objects for the pleasure of men.

Laura Linney is Bernard's wife Joan. After she found out that she could be a successful writer, she began to tire of her husband's overbearing ways. But she too was weak, and had been having an affair for several years. That they broke up was not the fault of either. They grew in different directions and were unable to see the situation realistically. That probably is the most common symptom of this kind of breakup.

Caught in the middle are the two sons, Walt and Frank. Walt, the teen, idolizes his dad, and in a very shallow manner talks scholarly about things he has not taken the time to read. He "composes" a song for a school talent show, wins the prize, but it is discovered that he took a song that had already been written. When asked why, he responded, "I could have written that song. The fact that someone else did was just a technicality."

For the most part the movie is very unusual, but also very well written and interesting. Here we have these flawed people trying to navigate through this family mess, and somehow they seem they will survive. It has a nice touch of realism through it, and is also very funny at times.

The title comes from's Walt's fear, as a small child, of the squid and whale exhibit at the museum.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Whale Chewing Squid Frightens Child

Author: mike rice ( 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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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Realistic tale of a family on the brink of breaking up

Author: ( from Portland, Oregon, United States
27 November 2005

The strains and hassles of a family breaking up have never been more realistically portrayed than in this film, set in a middle class Brooklyn neighborhood in the early 1980s. The Berkman marriage had been fraying for several years. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) once wrote a good novel, he claims, and aspired to literary greatness, before the winds of creativity died down, leaving the sails of his writer's vessel perpetually slack.

Bernie turned to teaching creative writing to college students to put bread on the table, but at mid-life he is a bitter fellow, a man who knows that he's in the doldrums, and that he has fallen way short of his dreams. His malaise intensifies when his wife, Joan (Laura Linney), begins to show some serious literary chops of her own: she's close to finishing a novel and getting short pieces published in places like The New Yorker magazine. The couple have two sons, teen Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and pre-teen Frank (Owen Kline).

The biggest problem in the family is that along with failure, and no doubt largely because of it, Bernie has become a world-class jerk: hypercritical, bombastic, self-serving to a fault. No one ever gave a better demonstration of narcissistic self-inflation to sooth the pain of deep personal disappointment. With the marriage on a crash course, an inevitable separation occurs and Bernie packs off down the road to a rental house.

Bernie's become so offensive that it's amazing that anybody sides with him, but son Walt strongly aligns himself with Dad. Perhaps Walt has bought into Bernie's illusions of his own grandeur, or maybe it's that, at mid-adolescence, Walt just needs to have a father to believe in. The younger Frank ostensibly is the family member most emotionally devastated by the separation and he strongly sides with his Mom.

Among other unsavory aspects of family dissolution, the harsh inequities wrought upon kids by joint custody arrangements is vividly depicted, with its attendant feeling that the kids really are in custody, because, like inmates, Walt and Frank, are shuttled around having no say at all in the matter, no control over the regular forced marches, back and forth, between two households, and all in the name of love.

Writer-director Noah Baumbach's earlier screenplay, co-written with Wes Anderson, for "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," was awash in deadpan (and, I thought, also deadening) ironies. In contrast, "Squid" is delivered from the heart without irony, disclosing nuanced sentiments that ring true. All four players give solid turns, as does William Baldwin as Ivan, a tennis coach who cozies up to Joan along the way.

Critics say that Jeff Daniels' performance is his best ever, and it may be true. But the most touchingly genuine turn is offered by young Owen Kline. His Frank emerges fully for us, evincing the emotions and conveying the epitome of tragic consequences when a family comes apart at the seams. My rating: 8/10 (B+). (Seen on 11/17/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.

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