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The Squid and The Whale (2005)

The Squid and The Whale
Squid and the Whale director Noah Baumbauch reveals his newest project - the Moose and the Bat.


Jeff Daniels
Laura Linney
William Baldwin
Owen Kline

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Reviewed By:

Tyler Sanders



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The Squid and the Whale is the directorial debut of screenwriter Noah Baumbach, co-writer of last years Wes Anderson comedy The Life Aquatic. Baumbach draws upon his childhood experiences for this tale of a family coming apart at the seams and his inspiration makes for a film which is at once tragic and funny. And also very frank and truthful.

Jeff Daniels (in arguably the best performance of his career) plays a professor of literature and his wife (Laura Linney) is an aspiring writer. Obviously a recipe for disaster in any marriage and soon their strained relationship becomes too broken to fix and the two separate. This in turn leads to games of favoritism with their two sons, 17 year old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), and a preteen Frank (Owen Kline) who are struggling with school and relationship problems of their own.

Past and present marital indiscretions also reveal themselves all while the parents play twisted mind games with each other and their boys. Soon the allegiances become obvious as the eldest sides with Dad and the youngest with Mom. Laura Linney's past affair is revealed to their older son and the younger son discovers she is having an affair with the tennis teacher, played hilariously by William Baldwin. When Daniels' character finds out about all this he responds with the same bemused indifference with which he's held all of her infidelities and trades fours by engaging in a dalliance of his own with a student, a good Anna Paquin. The parents argue the intellectual value of each others' careers, which seems the result of two people brought up in the mentality of 1960's intellectual counterculturalism. A trait also evident in their rather Laisse Faire parenting methods. They critique the intelligence of their sons teachers and counselors. Jeff Daniels even uses the term "Phillistines" to describe those not as cultured as himself.

Eisenberg and Kline acquit themselves well as they did in The Village, and because the film is largely biographical of Baumbauch (Walt) The Squid and the Whale is more a coming-of-age story than a portrait of the ravages of divorce. As a result the pathos presented can be more easily laughed about. Walt struggles with plagiarism in school and by taking sides with his father also adopts his somewhat misguided attitudes toward women. Frank, as the mama's boy has much deeper psychological scars that begin to manifest themselves in deviate sexual behavior that presents itself at school. I'll just call him a serial masturbater and let your imagination run with that much. There is some definitely hilarious and profane banter between the brothers about everything including their parents novels, which neither of them have read, yet their bad behavior does not bring about consternation on the part of their parents, because of their desperate desire to remain modern and hip. Anything to avoid acting like their own parents I suppose.

The conclusion of the film doesn't bother to offer any significant resolutions, except for a personal change in the older son, who begins to look at his family in a more honest and truthful light. The Squid and the Whale is definitely the work of someone who has suffered the tribulations of a fractured home-life himself. I don't know if this film represents catharsis for Baumbauch, nevertheless it is a smart and often moving look at the realities of family life as seen through the foggy rose-colored-glasses of post-counterculture mores.

:: zBoneman.com Reader Comments ::

Richard Culver

Richard Culver

Personally, I thought much of this film was awfully pretentious. All four of these characters basically just took turns being obnoxious and unlikable and though the acting was good, I certainly didn't come away from it, thinking I'd seen one of the ten best films of the year. I really don't understand why it has recieved the critical love that it has. Maybe it just hit a little too close to home for me, but I didn't find it amusing so much as I did sad and irresponsible. Next time this Burnbauch guy wants to unload his messed up childhood, maybe he ought to find a shrink not investors. Thumbs down.

Jeff Shannon

Jeff Shannon

What a wanker that guy is. Squid and the Whale is a lovely little film, that dares to tell the truth about a lot of things. I enjoyed it very much and if I found anything pretentious it was the remarks of Richard Culver.

Simon Green

Simon Green

It's a good job you all changed Pharisees to Phillistines because i was ready to ridicule your ass to no end for that somewhat major gaffe. There is a bit of a difference after all.

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