The Squid And The Whale

The Squid And The Whale


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Very little to do with squids or whales, Noah Baumbach's latest outfit, The Squid And The Whale, paints an autobiographical picture of how two boys living in 1980s Brooklyn are affected by the break up of their parents' marriage.

Frank (Owen Kline) and Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) are brothers: Frank barely a teenager, and Walt a few years older. Their parents Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) are liberal academic New Yorkers. Both highly competitive, as educated, opinionated, middle-class go-getters often are, Bernard is an acclaimed novelist, now relegated to division two English college lecturing. Joan, on the other hand, is a novelist on the rise, with regular articles in the New Yorker, among other boasting points. One evening at the tea table, they sit the boys down and tell them they're splitting up. One adult gets the boys three days a week, and the other, four. Simple. Not!

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Frank, in the upside down world of pubescence, starts jerking off in public places (not in public) and wiping it on the nearest object. A bit like the traditional bogey on the underside of a school desk, but more extreme. Walt, meanwhile, listens to his father's views on life, sex and the world and takes them as gospel. Quite amusingly he uses his father's witticisms to impress the ladies, quoting Kafka among others and cashing in on his more awkward male peers. Aping and plagiarising soon become Walt's daily religion. When his parents turn a blind eye to his rendition of Hey You by Pink Floyd at the school concert, which he attempts to pass off as his own, the shabby direction of Bernard and Joan's parenting is fully exposed.

While Bernard persuades one of his young budding female students Lili (Anna Paquin), to come and stay with him and talk books (yeah right!) in his dilapidated Brooklyn abode, Joan moves into the pants of the kids' tennis coach, Ivan (William Baldwin). This is classic New York bohemia in full flow. Amid the veneer of sophistication of the New York intelligentsia lies a childish pair of adults unable to steer their own lives towards responsibility and happiness, let alone their kids'. Still, this makes for a much more exciting story. Bernard's blatant swearing, childlike competitiveness on the tennis court and teenage sex chats with Walt are tremendously entertaining. The sort of dad most teenagers would love until they found out the damage caused later on.

Still, Baumbach's career hardly seems to have suffered as a result. Based largely on his own experiences growing up with divorced parents, The Squid And The Whale is a highly sensitive and subtly produced piece of work. Made on a shoe-string budget, it pays true homage to the spirit of independent cinema. The acting is convincing across the board, particularly Daniels whose range stretches far greater than his comedy status. He is every bit the amoral promiscuous bearded liberal. The youngsters are also outstanding particularly Jesse Eisenberg's performance, which is mature and shines with confidence and subtlety.

There's not a lot wrong with the Squid And The Whale. It's full of quirks and cracking little idiosyncrasies, and who better to tell it than a man who's been through it first hand.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2006
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Breaking up is hard to do - especially for the kids.
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Read more The Squid And The Whale reviews:

The Exile ****
Anton Bitel ***1/2

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Halley Feiffer, Anna Paquin, William Baldwin

Year: 2005

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Sundance 2005

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