The Squid And The Whale [DVD] 
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In his third feature, director Noah Baumbach scores a triumph with an autobiographical coming-of-age story about a teenager whose writer-parents are divorcing. The father (Jeff Daniels) and mother (Laura Linney) duke it out in half-civilized, half-savage fashion, while their two sons adapt in different ways, shifting allegiances between parents. The film is squirmy-funny and nakedly honest about the rationalizations and compensatory snobbisms of artistic failure as well as the conflicted desires of adolescents for sex and status. In detailing bohemian-bourgeois life in brownstone Brooklyn, Baumbach is spot on. Everyone proceeds from good intentions and acts rather badly, in spite or because of their manifest intelligence. Fulfilling the best traditions of the American independent film, this quirky, wisely written feature explores the gulf between sexes, generations, art and commerce, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The Squid and the Whale follows the divorce of Joan (Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me) and Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels, The Purple Rose of Cairo) as it wreaks havoc on the emotional lives of their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg, Roger Dodger) and Frank (Owen Kline, The Anniversary Party). Though there's no plot in the usual sense, the movie progresses with growing emotional force from the separation into the bitter fighting between Joan and Bernard and the hapless, floundering behaviour of Walt and Frank, who act out through plagiarism, sexual acts and drinking.
Some viewers may find the ending too diffuse; others will appreciate that writer/director Noah Baumbach (Mr. Jealousy) doesn't wrap up the messiness of life in a false cinematic package. Either way, viewers will appreciate how the specificity of the personalities makes The Squid and the Whale so compelling, as Baumbach has drawn the characters with such detail, both engaging and off-putting, that they leap off the screen. Naturally, he's greatly helped by the cast: Linney, Eisenberg, Kline and especially Daniels bite into these often unsympathetic portraits and give fearlessly honest performances, interlocked in both painful and funny ways--rarely have family dynamics been captured so vividly. If there was an ensemble Oscar, this cast would deserve it. --Bret Fetzer
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Top Customer Reviews
Jeff Daniels gives a quietly barnstorming performance as Bernard (pronounced Ber-NARD) Berkman, a lazily bearded New York writer whose literary career is on the skids. His wife Joan (Laura Linney), meanwhile, has been published in the New Yorker and is about to get some good news about her first novel... Berkman is presented to us in toto in the opening scene, playing tennis with the family, the hilariously bitter competitive dad figure as he takes his son to one side and whispers "Try to get your mother's backhand. It's her weak point."
When the divorce is announced, along with joint custody ("Joint custody blows" - for some reason this has been changed on the UK DVD cover to 'joint custody sucks'), elder son Walt takes dad's side, accusing his mother of breaking up the family. He dates Sophie, a charming but unworldly girl who is taken in by his faux-intellectualism (another inheritance from his father), describing her favourite book as 'minor Fitzgerald,' bluffing a discussion and calling Metamorphosis 'Kafkaesque,' and faking authorship of Pink Floyd songs. Younger son Frank, aged - what? - ten or eleven, takes to masturbating and smearing his semen in public places, and to alcohol.
If all this makes it seem utterly grim, that could not be further from the truth. The film is not (or not only) uplifting in a Richard Yates way, for its honesty in portraying misery.Read more ›
I might have thought this equally good if it hadn't abruptly ended at what I estimated as 3/4 of the way through the film. It didn't, it really was 80 minutes long, but to someone closely following the story, it seemed as if the director had suddenly cried "Cut. All go home!" just as we might have been approaching some sort of climax or resolution. So we are cut off in limbo, as it were. A pity since there is some fine acting, very good writing, in this tale of what happens to two young sons of about 12 and 17 when their parents divorce.
You are never quite sure if the director is sending up the rather pompous parents, and you are not allowed to really like any of them, but that does not detract from the enjoyment of watching how the so-called 'best intentions' of these liberal parents are actually harming their young sons.
I was really enjoying it, when BANG! The End appeared on the screen. You have been warned.
I wouldn't rate this as one of the greatest films ever made, but it was very well worth buying, and viewing again.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If what you want to see is a snobbish, boasting failure of a dad, a miserable mother, a son who tries to be a clone of his dad, and another son who is into public masturbation and... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Melvyn Bowler
A quite superb film story revolving around the divorce decided between mother and father who are writers ( Laura Linney and Jeff bridges ) and the effect on their children; far... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Rainy Days
This was the most painfully tedious film ive ever suffered. Who could have thought divorce could be so achingly dull? Read morePublished 20 months ago by carl pitman