The Squid & The Whale - Review
Review by Jack Foley
DIVORCE drama The Squid & The Whale was the best reviewed movie in America last year and it’s easy to see why.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, this witty yet poignant tale was inspired by the break-up of his own parents’ marriage and therefore smacks with an emotional intensity that can only have come from first-hand experience.
Set in 1986, the film focuses on two children – Walt and Frank Berkman (played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) – as they attempt to cope with the separation of their parents, Bernard and Joan (Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney), while entering into one of the most difficult periods of their lives.
Yet far from being a downbeat, depressing experience The Squid & The Whale is an absorbing, funny and frequently emotional journey that unfolds in double-quick time (clocking in at just over 80 minutes).
It is also as intelligently written as it is expertly performed by every member of the cast.
As the adults at the centre of the drama, Daniels and Linney are exemplary.
The former creates one of the most memorably idiotic characters of recent years in Bernard, a lecturer still coasting on the success of a former novel, who genuinely believes he is one of the most intelligent people on earth.
His naive arrogance is astonishing and often excruciating to watch, especially when attempting to shine in his sons’ eyes, or seduce a young lodger (Anna Paquin).
Yet he is capably matched by Linney’s headstrong Joan, an emerging literary force who resorted to infidelity in order to be appreciated during the final days of their relationship.
Their scenes together are pitch-perfect, especially when squabbling over visitation rights, weekend rotas or marital frustrations.
Similarly impressive are Eisenberg and Kline (son of Kevin) whose sibling relationship becomes just as strained as a result of their parents’ attempts to win their affections.
Eisenberg, especially, impresses as the older teenager who comes to realise his father isn’t the shining example he once held him up to be, especially when it comes to providing advice over his own coming of age experiences.
While Kline displays a maturity beyond his years as the youngest brother who attempts to assert his own identity by regularly wiping his semen around school.
There’s nice support, too, from William Baldwin as a laidback tennis instructor with a penchant for referring to everyone as ‘my brother’.
Having come from such bitter personal experience, it’s hardly surprising that The Squid & The Whale doesn’t resort to cheap sentimentality or a contrived Hollywood ending to draw things to a close.
Rather, it leaves things as open as life itself, providing audiences with plenty to consider as they leave the cinema. It’s a decision that ensures the movie remains grounded in reality and which makes the whole experience all the more heartfelt and honest.
Don’t miss out.
Running time: 81mins