The Squid and the Whale (2005)
USA / English
"Joint Custody Blows.
"Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980's.
Moral of the Story: Divorce Is Tough
A friend of mine was hesitant to see this movie, because she'd heard
that it pushes the agenda that divorce is never a good option for
dealing with marital problems. I don't really know who told her this,
and I hope this same reason isn't keeping others from seeing it. This
isn't at all what I took away from the film. It certainly communicates
the idea that divorce isn't easy, on either the parents or the kids,
but I don't feel that it pronounces judgement on those who turn to it
as an option.
"The Squid and the Whale" is a sad--though at times very funny--look at
what divorce does to one family in 1986 New York. Jeff Daniels plays
the dad, a pompous, arrogant writer whose feelings of commercial
failure (he teaches literature at a university) cause him to act
intellectually superior to everyone he meets. Daniels is almost too
good in this role; he reminded me way too much of people I actually
know who are like this. He's the kind of guy who would be deadly at a
dinner party, because there's no such thing as a casual or flippant
remark in this guy's presence. He analyzes everything to death, and
isn't content until everyone's opinion matches his own.
Laura Linney plays the wayward mom, blamed for the break up of the
marriage by the dad because of a string of affairs she carries on. Her
guilt keeps her from being able to discipline her sons, especially the
oldest, who treats her horribly. Linney's role is smaller but in some
ways much more complex than Daniels'. Her character has to take
responsibility for her infidelity but still make the audience
sympathize with her.
Caught in the middle of this mess are their two boys. The oldest
quickly allies himself with his dad, and walks around regurgitating his
father's opinions on every subject, rarely pausing to form any of his
own. The younger son, more sensitive and tired of being intellectually
brow beaten by his father and older brother, sticks closer to the mom.
No one is totally to blame, yet no one is completely innocent either in
this honest and frank film.
Noah Baumbach has made no secret of the fact that it is based on his
own adolescent life, and it has that confessional feeling that movies
in this genre frequently do. There are awkward moments when this
doesn't totally work. The ending for one is rather ham-fisted, and a
scene between the oldest son and his school therapist seemed awfully
pat to me. But the acting and the sharp writing make up for these
weaknesses, and the movie manages to be poignant without ever becoming
maudlin or overly sentimental.
See it for the performances of Linney and especially Daniels, who has
been proving his versatility as an actor over the last few years.
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