Review: The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Squid and the Whale

Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg

When Bernard, a fading novelist and college English professor finds himself in the midst of a divorce helmed by his unfaithful wife Joan, the couple’s two children, Walt and Frank, are inevitably caught in the crossfire. As teenage Walt begins to favor the company of his father more as the settlement gets underway, younger brother Frank does so with his mother, resulting in a series of events that aid each of them in stumbling upon their own self-realization and the maturation it entails. This in mind, The Squid and the Whale is writer/director Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical account of the Berkman family and the issues that constantly plague them.

I actually picked this up on a wimb at a local thrift store for about $2 and, lucky for me, the purchase proved to be a worthy one for a multitude of reasons. For starters, Baumbach’s writing is refreshingly original, smart, and pretty damn funny thanks to a heaping dose of black comedy: my favorite. I especially enjoyed the obvious favoritism exhibited by each of the two Berkman children towards opposite parents, as such an element effectively contributes to the development and maturation of their characters as the film progresses in a coherent manner.

The character I found most appealing however is that of father and novelist Bernard, deftly played by a scruffy, full-bearded Jeff Daniels. His obvious bigheadedness, almost definitely a result of his much faded credibility as a writer, gives the character a sort of complexity not altogether present within that of his somewhat promiscuous wife, Laura Linney’s Joan. In fact, it’s easy to appreciate Bernard’s development the most, seeing as how he’s constantly oblivious to the utter garbage that flows so freely from his mouth given the ego he’s so faithfully stood by all these years, regardless of the feelings of others. It’s because of this that his eventual maturation towards the film’s end comes as a very pleasant surprise.

Daniels included, The Squid and the Whale features some excellent performances across the board. Linney’s portrayal of Joan is simply terrific, and her character, despite a potential propensity to dislike it, is fascinating in her own right on the basis of her personality and various acts of infidelity. The same goes for Jesse Eisenberg and newcomer Owen Kline as well, who, surprisingly enough, show off some pretty great chemistry onscreen, making them all the more believable as brothers. However, despite Kline’s ability to handle the emotional complexities of young Frank so well, said complexities proved themselves to be a little more than I could handle, regardless of the film’s semi-autobiographical touch. Billy Baldwin made me smile though.

As a whole, The Squid and the Whale is an altogether excellent, very original piece of cinema. With great writing, equally great performances, and consistent (appropriate) dark comedic undertones, Baumbach has provided us with one of the most unique cinematic experiences in years, even if I didn’t entirely agree with one or more plot points. In plain terms, The Squid and the Whale is a must-see for film buffs and casual viewers alike.

Rating: 8/10


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