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Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Squid and the Whale Review

The Squid and the Whale Review
2005, 81 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic dialogue, and language

Starring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale is a brutally honest, semi-autobiographical film by Noah Baumbach that follows a couple who gets divorced and how their kids are affected when they get caught in between. 

I saw this film about one year ago, but I cannot get it out of my mind.  I will also say that The Squid and the Whale is one of those films that I can safely say will not be for everyone, but those who will like it will be thrilled that they found this profound gem.  The reason why this film can be polarizing is because of the lack of a resolution, a story that will look like someone took a camera and filmed people's problems, and very unlikable characters.  This may all sound bad, but it completely works and got Baumbach a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination.  

I was very impressed with The Squid and the Whale on multiple levels.  The first one was the honesty and realism that pervades which is largely due to Baumbach's excellent script.  In this film, there are no happy endings, no touches of grace, no eye-rolling sentimental scenes.  It starts off showing the parents' discontent with each other, then focuses on the effects of their separation.  When the two separate, it is painful to watch what happens to their kids, one in high school, one in junior high. The son in high school, played to perfection by the always-excellent Jesse Eisenberg lashes out in a quiet way.  He takes the side of the father, a faux-intellectual teacher who never thinks he's wrong.  This causes even more problems when his younger brother takes the mother's side.  He gets his anger out sexually and visibly going to disturbing heights that I will let you discover when you view this film.

Baumbach is great at making amazing films about unlikable characters.  He writes scenes that seem to be taken straight from real life and infuses them with fascinating symbolism.  In one of the most subtly fascinating scenes in the film, the father takes the older brother and his girlfriend to see David Lynch's Blue Velvet (reviewed on this site).  This is a piece of Noah Baumbach's signature symbolism.  Like the tree with rotten roots in his masterwork, Margot at the Wedding, this piece of symbolism shows a problem with the family.  Blue Velvet is a film about a boy who discovers a disturbing underworld underneath his seemingly perfect suburban town.  This is like the family in the film.  They are seemingly normal on the outside, but on the inside, there is serious dysfunction occurring.  Another rather comical aspect of this scene is that the son is taking his girlfriend on a date to Blue Velvet, a film rife with graphic violence, rape, and kinky sex.  Who would go on a date to this film?  This shows a lot about the abnormality of the characters.

In addition to the smart script, the performances by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are jaw-dropping.  Jeff Daniels is the most impressive actor on display here.  He is fantastic as the aforementioned faux-intellectual teacher father.  He makes himself completely unlikable (and Daniels is normally a very likable actor) and so does Laura Linney.  She and Daniels arguments in the film are as realistic as they get and are very hard to watch, especially because their two children are around.  

Overall, The Squid and the Whale is a great piece of work from one of the only directors around that makes films with completely unlikable characters nothing less than compelling.


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