The Squid and The Whale (2005)
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Squid and the Whale director Noah Baumbauch reveals his newest project - the Moose and the Bat.
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.
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