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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 38.46%
Just Average: 13.85%
Pretty Crappy: 1.54%
Sucks: 6.15%

7 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Squid and the Whale, The
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by Dennis Swennumson

"If you don't like this movie, you're a philistine"
5 stars

The crumbling family portrayed in Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” has a dynamic controlled by the need for scholarly overachievement. The conflicted patriarch, Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) evidently regards a PhD as the best quality a person can have, the creative expressions of his two boys are not simply encouraged, but scrutinized like a graduate student’s dissertation. Their dinner conversations are made up of references and criticisms of great literary and film works; for the kids, their father’s opinion on all school subjects is the final word. Despite the intellectual speak constantly heard in the film, the movie’s thesis and most important observation is spoken by a barely seen class-mate; “Joint custody blows.”

Partially based on Noah Baumbach’s own family, the movie is seen from the dual perspectives of the two sons, teenaged Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and pre-adolescent Frank (Owen Kline). Both of them are immediately used as pawns in the post-separation warfare between their parents, Walt quickly develops a grudge towards his mother, played by Laura Linney, after being supplied the details of her past extra-marital affairs. Frank’s feelings are ignored and not taken seriously by the other three family members; he begins drinking beer and develops a habit for wiping his semen on library books and lockers. The unflinching nature in which the boys’ grief is portrayed is what gives “The Squid and the Whale” its true dramatic quality; this is a deeply personal and authentic work.

All four of the central actors give noteworthy performances, but Jeff Daniels deserves the most admiration as Bernard; this is the best performance of his career. The evidence is frequently presented; he signs a book to his son “Best wishes”, he acts as if the family tennis matches are the U.S. Open- his tortured wife nothing but an opponent; that Bernard is a cold-hearted bastard. When he commands strict following of the complicated custody agreement, it’s hard to believe if it’s truly out of love for his sons, like he says, or to conserve what remains of his past publishing royalties and his immense ego. Daniels recognizes this and makes no obvious gestures to the contrary, his treatment of this character comes without apologies. Baumbach has developed the character so fully; despite all of the horrible, destructive things Bernard orchestrates and Daniels’ unsympathetic characterization, there are still concise moments in the film that we truly sympathize for him. No other actor could have done better work with Bernard, to think of the wide range of characters Daniels has portrayed in his career, and the meticulous construction that comes with each of them, it’s criminal that Jeff Daniels is such an underappreciated actor.

As a collaborator, on “The Life of Aquatic with Steve Zissou”, and friend of Wes Anderson, Baumbach’s film does contain the distinct melancholy that marks Anderson’s movies. However, Baumbach doesn’t have the penchant for microscopic attention to detail and whimsical narrative treatment that Anderson does; which provides a finer focus on the characters and their conflicts with the situation. This is oft-covered territory, especially in almost every one of Woody Allen’s best films, stories about egocentric, intellectual people unable to function and stories of heartbreaking family implosions are released frequently, but Baumbach never allows his film to get bogged down in clichés.

With a perfect balance of blunt, dark humor and painful domestic strife, “The Squid and the Whale” is a fully inspired and entertaining accomplishment, establishing Noah Baumbach as an important filmmaker to watch.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11227&reviewer=338
originally posted: 11/06/05 19:04:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/31/10 User Name A well-acted look at the effect divorce has on families. 4 stars
4/10/10 brian All characters unlikeable. Soundtrack wildly intrusive. Fingernails on chalkboard. 2 stars
3/07/10 Samantha Pruitt very weird movie, i'm not sure how i feel about it 3 stars
1/28/09 mo914 I LOVE OWEN KLINE 5 stars
1/26/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 5 stars
1/23/08 LJ the sperm-smearing scenes are beyond distasteful- *puke* 1 stars
11/01/06 skk Fabulous, Moving... Spot On 5 stars
9/28/06 ES convoluted, too short & no real closure at the end, interesting at times, but unexceptional 3 stars
8/16/06 Mary Beth character study; enjoyable to watch things fall to hell 5 stars
5/30/06 Indrid Cold Funny, engaging and whip-smart. Unfortunately, it's also pointless. 4 stars
4/18/06 Jung Texican Hilarious AND painful examination of the worst broken family behavior 4 stars
4/02/06 Monday Morning Tremendously enjoyable -- "understated elegance" 5 stars
3/30/06 Phil M. Aficionado The performances take it above average; otherwise, nothing special 4 stars
1/18/06 jcjs so fine...yummy...fun...real...sad...funny...clever...great acting...delightful...clever 5 stars
12/31/05 Norman Acting was supurb by the four main charactors,and found all the leads interesting.i 4 stars
12/10/05 T michol I wasted $16 1 stars
12/01/05 letty too close to home! Great performances especially by the young actors. 5 stars
11/24/05 jack totally overrated 1 stars
10/17/05 Sheila Good performances 5 stars
10/10/05 mikeo@prodigy.net Beautifully crafted drama based too much on the pain of divorce, particularly for children. 4 stars
10/10/05 Nic Oatridge Well directed, but directionless storyline and no likeable characters 3 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam An intelligent & literate screenplay; well-acted; the film "Thumbsucker" failed to be. 4 stars
9/14/05 Mike Humt WTF is this? 1 stars
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  05-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Mar-2006



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Noah Baumbach

Written by
  Noah Baumbach

  Jeff Daniels
  Laura Linney
  Jesse Eisenberg
  Owen Kline
  Billy Baldwin
  Anna Paquin

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