• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:November 24, 2017

Squid and the Whale: Baumbach Growing Up

JOINT CUSTODY BLOWS.

I almost feel like I should apologize. I borrowed this DVD from a friend, liked it a lot… but didn’t consider it a masterpiece, which is what my friend and many critics do. There really is nothing negative to report about the film; it is beautifully executed and very effective… as long as you don’t expect it to rock your world.

We are introduced to the Berkmans, your average intellectual, middle-class family in Brooklyn. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a novelist in decline; now that he’s finding it hard to get his books published he’s taken a teaching job. On the other hand, his wife Joan (Laura Linney) is on the path to becoming an acclaimed novelist on her own, without any support from Bernard who’s better at offering resentment. The marriage is collapsing and their two sons are caught in the middle.

The oldest boy, 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), idolizes his father and immediately takes his side, especially when Bernard lets him know that Joan once cheated on him. 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline) feels closer to his mother and thinks of his easy-going tennis coach (William Baldwin) as a much more inspiring role model than Bernard. When the parents separate, the boys start acting out in different ways…

First offered to Wes Anderson
Director Noah Baumbach based the story on his own experiences and allegedly first offered it to Wes Anderson who told him that he should direct the movie himself. I can certainly see why Baumbach felt the material needed Anderson’s quirky touch. The final results look very much like a Wes Anderson picture; there’s a family of originals, tennis plays a part in the story, a discreet sense of humor coupled with serious themes provide the backbone and the soundtrack offers an eclectic variety of songs. It’s a colorful film that really has few surprises in its analysis of the damaged characters and their problems, but it is well structured and Baumbach delivers many scenes that are both funny and heartfelt.

The cast is electrifying. Both Eisenberg and Kline (yes, Kevin’s son) are believable as the troubled boys. Daniels grew a crazy beard for his character and it fits Bernard to a tee; he is a man who constantly regards people and the world around him as subjects in need of critique rather than simply a normal, emotional reaction, and Daniels knowingly emphasize what is both funny and tragic about Bernard’s bitterness. Linney’s Joan tends to fall in the shadow of the male characters, but she is excellent as a woman who needs to fulfill herself rather than stay on as the devoted and ultimately resented wife.

Walt deserves his own section in this review. Eisenberg is so good at finding the right tone in his portrayal of a kid who seems to be the reason why psychoanalysis was invented. As the film progresses, Walt finds himself in one emotional crisis after the other without even realizing that there is a problem. The final scene is predictably a desperate way for him to reach back to a part of his life where he could feel safe. The road to recovery for him begins at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Well, he could do worse.

The Squid and the Whale 2005-U.S. 88 min. Color. Produced by Wes Anderson, Charlie Corwin, Clara Markowicz, Peter Newman. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach. Cast: Jeff Daniels (Bernard Berkman), Laura Linney (Joan Berkman), Jesse Eisenberg (Walt Berkman), Owen Kline (Frank Berkman), Anna Paquin, William Baldwin.

Trivia: Bill Murray was allegedly considered for the part of Bernard.

Last word: “[My parents]¬†liked the movie. It‚Äôs funny, I think in a way ‚ÄĒ and I take this as a compliment ‚ÄĒ other people assume the movie is, like, actually more revealing than I think it is. For me the movie feels like a protection. In order to make it, I wrote in a very personal, raw, uncensored way about very familiar things to me. But doing that allowed me to reinvent it. If this movie weren‚Äôt so effectively fictionalized, it wouldn‚Äôt feel so real. I‚Äôm sure it‚Äôs weird, though ‚ÄĒ to see something even somewhat related to what we went through. But my parents are both writers so they kind of get it. My dad rooted for Walt to leave the hospital room.” (Baumbach, Indiewire)

 

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