The Squid and the Whale
Set in Brooklyn, 1986 (don't you just love to be told the setting so directly?)
What most surprised me about The Squid and the Whale was that my
wife liked it! Now I know she's an independent movie convert (it has taken
me five years and long trips to smaller "art theaters"), and she's a hard
sell-she watches Doris Day and James Garner on rainy days.
The Squid and the Whale Movie Review
My approach is to give the director and actors the benefit of the doubt. Let them build their flying machines and see if they can convince us, the viewers, to climb aboard for the ride. More to the point, this film is like watching a game- ping pong and tennis- prevailing as the favorite activities of Jeff Daniel's character though he can't quite convince his two boys -even with lessons from William Baldwin-to love the game. Warning: you need to pay attention to details.
The opening tennis scene for The Squid and the Whale anticipates
the war to follow; pairing the mother (Laura Linney) with the youngest son
(Owen Kline) and the father (Jeff Daniels) with the older son (Jesse Eisenberg)
in a game of doubles.
This might be my favorite movie with Jeff Daniels (my favorite with Laura Linney was "Mystic River"), as the jaded college professor, once a published author, now as dry and lifeless as the old paperbacks he still reads. His wife, also a PHD, is just coming into her own as a writer and lover, though not with her spouse. Give credit to director Noah Baumbach for keeping our eyes on the ball; the battle for the boys.
As far as the marriage; the thrill is gone and so is any sign of life from
the father. Beneath the civilized split and the separation of the brothers,
like the witches brew in the opening scene of Macbeth, we sense
that an emotional skirmish lies ahead. But Baumbach, to his credit, avoids
violence, except to their spirits, where the film resides.
The Squid and the Whale
So we have Bernard (Daniels), who has lost his spirit, Joan (Linney) looking for ways to spend hers, and the two boys learning to quick-deed theirs from ownership by their parents.
The older, 12-year-old-brother, is the most articulate voice of the movie, with his younger 10 year-old, right behind. Their observations set the tempo (the movie moves quickly) and they become the ammunition and victims of the parents. By the end of the film, the roles of children and parents have reversed.
My wife found humor in some of their preposterous behavior. I was mostly fascinated and saddened by the dysfunctional antics of the parents leading to problems for the boys (discomfort with affection-a girlfriend- for the older brother, and earnest but misdirected displays of self-relief by the younger). I suppose the humor is in how sincerely the boys coped, and helped their parent too, narrating their way through it.
Jesse Eisenbergs character (the older brother) reminded me of a young Woody Allen- (the best Woody Allen), with fast-paced dialogue and a constant searching for answers through language. For these two scholar parents, language becomes their means of denial, as though they were living in one of the dusty unread books of Bernard and Joan has long ago left in search of a better plot.
In the end, it's about love and marriage-as twisted and as contentious as it may be; without a victor; like the squid and the whale.