Duke & The Movies

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Written by: Sam Fragoso on June 5, 2012

June 5, 2012 | 6 comments | Featured

The Squid and the Whale tells the story of a couple falling out of love, and the harmful residual effects a separation has on their children. It’s common tale in America, where the staggering divorce rate of 50 percent continues to grow with each passing day. What makes the film special, though, is that this all too familiar circumstance is told with such sincerity and authenticity.

Based off the personal experiences of director Noah Baumbach and his brother, he takes his personal story – set in the autumn of Brooklyn in 1986 – and makes it a universal one.

The family on screen contains an assortment of personalities (as with any family). Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) is ostensibly a cultivated teenager who casually talks shop about the major and minor works of Fitzgerald. Frank (Owen Kline) is a perplexing little kid who can’t quite handle the break up, and as a result acts inappropriately (i.e.: he curses, talks back to his family, and masturbates at school).

Naturally, the idiosyncratic children spawned from their parents, Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney). Bernard is a once upon time successful author who has yet to return to form. Joan is a progressing writer who has had been professionally fortunate as of late. The former is a judgmental and cynical figure that has a son (Walt) that adores him. The latter is a dissatisfied and emotionally confused individual that has a son that adorer her (Frank).

The organic flow of each scene is just a testament to the talents of gifted filmmaker/screenwriter Noah Baumbach. Autobiographical to Baumbach, each conversation feels as though there is intent and care behind it.

However, while this invaluable story could’ve never been told without Baumbach, it’s the tour-de-force of a cast that makes the film. Jeff Daniels (once again) establishes himself as one of the best working actors around. Jesse Eisenberg shows an abundance of promise. And Laura Linney gives her character a down-to-earth vibe that makes her character identifiable.

It’s difficult to pinpoint and articulate why The Squid and the Whale affected me the way it did. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone through the heartache of a divorce, and have bared witness to the pessimistic mentalities of writers that plague both parents in the film.

But The Squid and the Whale doesn’t only offer up suffering. While heated conflict is aplenty, affection is still shown on all fronts. And much like the psychological and physical journey of severing the ties from the ones you love, Baumbach’s perceptive and observant account of divorce is one of unmatched honesty and feeling.

Rating: ★★★½

The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Cast: Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach

Runtime: 81 minutes

Genre: comedy, drama

Trailer The Squid and the Whale


There are 6 comments for this post.

  1. CS on June 5, 2012 9:11 am

    I absolutely loved this film. I was fortunate enough to catch it at TIFF where Baumbach, Daniels, and Linney introduced the film. It is one of only three films where I actually went out and bought a copy of the screenplay afterwards. I just find the dialogue in the film so fascinating, especially in regards to how each parent interacts with the brothers.

  2. Andrew on June 5, 2012 9:40 am

    This is such a tricky, discomfiting, warm and yet cold, wonderfully shot little film. There’s a lot of layers here and a lot going on in each layer, but it’s strangely easy to watch despite its complexity and really, really rewarding.

  3. Dan O. on June 5, 2012 9:52 am

    I’m sort of like 50/50 with Baumbach. Some of his stuff works for me (such as this), while others don’t do a single thing to me and just have me hating every single one of his characters he puts up on-screen. This film, in my opinion, is his best and shows plenty of heart underneath all of the hatred some of these characters feel for each other. Great review Duke.

  4. blake on June 5, 2012 11:40 am

    I’ve probably seen this movie ten times. The cast and writing is so great. Baumbach has been slightly disappointing to me since this one, but I’ll always give his stuff a chance thanks to Squid and the Whale.

  5. Steven Flores on June 5, 2012 2:14 pm

    I love this film. This is still my favorite Noah Baumbach film. I loved how each kid took on a different side of the divorce and the use of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You”. I also loved how the narrative tends to shift from hating one parent and then to another only to realize that both are flawed but genuine people. And why did Jesse Eisenberg tried to go after Anna Paquin when there was a nice girl in Haley Feiffer? I much preferred Feiffer over Paquin.

  6. Duke & The Movies :: June: Summer Has Begun on July 1, 2012 9:33 am

    [...] The Squid and the Whale – Depicts the residual effects of divorce on children profoundly. [...]

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