This charming and witty film packs a punch in its minimal running time.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin
Genre: Comedy, Drama
The Squid and the Whale manages to achieve a lot in its 80 minute duration. The flow of the narrative is quite fast and smooth. There is hardly any extraneous scene. This film, telling the story of how two teenage boys deal with their parents’ divorce, avoids being too melodramatic; a trap that many indie films fall into. Instead, it remains natural and nothing seems to be forced.
The movie is set in the 1980’s in Brooklyn, New York. Right from the very first scene, you can see that this film means business. It is that of a family tennis match in which there are arguments and hostility between the mother, Joan (played by Laura Linney), and the father, Bernard (played by Jeff Daniels) during the run of play. Their two kids, Walt and Frank (played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline respectively) can do nothing but watch. The ongoing family tension eventually leads to the parents getting a divorce.
Then begins the phase of the dreaded joint custody. The Squid and the Whale follows the struggles and attempts of Walt and Frank to cope with this new situation they find themselves in. The performances of both Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline are truly commendable. It is devastating and depressing to look at their condition but the movie avoids being dark by the smart inclusion of comedic moments at the right times
As the film moves on, we see that the divorce was long coming. Bernard is a somewhat arrogant middle aged man who has experienced a decline in his writing career. He views ‘Philistines’ (people who don’t have appreciation for the arts) with contempt. On the other hand, his wife, Joan, had been unfaithful to him by being involved in a string of affairs for the past few years. Moreover, she has recently received critical acclaim for her literary work. These character dynamics make an interesting recipe for an eventual divorce. Jeff Daniels gives a very convincing performance and proves what a versatile actor he is. The same can be said about Laura Linney who succeeds in making her unfaithful character, one that we can surprisingly sympathize with.
Despite dealing with a depressing event, the film manages to feel colorful. It really goes into the heart and core of this dysfunctional family. Do not be fooled into thinking that The Squid and the Whale is a family movie. It does not shy away from being sexually explicit at times. Both Walt and Frank find various ways to deal with their parents’ divorce. Frank starts exploring masturbation. Walt, on the other hand, plans to lose his virginity and start his own sexual journey. All of this leads to a string of awkward and hilarious situations.
Artistry is a predominant theme throughout the movie. Both Joan and Bernard are writers. Bernard advises his sons to pursue art as well. Moreover, he often has long discussions with Walt about famous writers and their work and doesn’t hesitate to criticize anyone. Furthermore, Walt pursues music as well by playing the guitar and singing songs. The Squid and the Whale probably makes a point about the sensitive feelings of artists here. Their fragile emotions become a big cause for the differences they have.
Overall, The Squid and the Whale isn’t the type of film that is obsessed with the idea of being crowd pleasing. It beautifully blends its rawness with comedy and the result is a sincere and humorous look into divorce and its subsequent impact on a family. You might be wondering why it’s named ‘The Squid and the Whale’. You will find that out at the end of the film and it might surprise (and confuse) you!
FINAL RATING: 4.5/5