The Squid and the Whale has been on my shelf since January. I didn’t know much about the film going in other than it was a Noah Baumbach film. He worked with Wes Anderson on some films and so I’ve been wanting to watch his directing work. The film is very dark in a lot of ways, but really crafts some interesting characters even if they’re despicable. The Squid and the Whale earned the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.
Frank (Owen Kline) and Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg) are brothers growing up in Brooklyn in the 1980s. Their lives are changed when their parents, both writers, tell them they are getting a divorce and splitting custody of the boys. The family is torn down the middle and each boy struggles to deal with this change in destructive ways.
The film sets the teams up right at the beginning of the film. Frank and his mother, Joan (Laura Linney) are playing tennis against Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Walt. This will be the framework of the rest of the film as the boy’s side with one parent over the other. It’s really hard to watch Walt idolize his father and take everything he says as gospel. This character trait really features most of his downfall later in the film. Frank, who is fairly young, turns to drinking alcohol and masturbating in inappropriate places. It’s a sad and often hard to watch film at times as the characters dig a deeper and deeper hole for themselves.
Jeff Daniels always manages to impress me. My childhood memories of him are of his role in Dumb and Dumber. The range he is able to demonstrate always impresses me. He’s such a horrible person in this film, but he seems to be unable to help himself. He is extremely pretentious and his self-perceived superiority is all he really has. It seems almost everyone knows he’s washed up, but Walt and a few of his graduate students. He clings to his habits as his worlds falls apart. Bernard seems determined to bring everyone down with him as he makes excuses and neglects his children.
Laura Linney plays an interesting mother figure
Laura Linney’s Joan is as interesting as Bernard. Usually, she would be a sympathetic character who is the victims of a bad marriage. However, she’s not innocent in the problems or the neglect of the children. Frank is mainly drinking at his mother’s house. Walt and Joan have an extremely complicated relationship that she doesn’t know how to fix. The affairs, yes there are multiple, she’d had are ultimately the reason for the separation. The dynamic of both parents being guilty of the problems makes you feel worse for the children. Both parents are smart and talented writers, but they definitely struggle with parenting.
The Squid and the Whale is not an easy film to watch and isn’t for everyone. I initially wasn’t sure how I felt about this film, but after thinking about it for a while I decided I like it. It’s not one I’ll rewatch often, but there is a lot of content worth reviewing. I prefer films that don’t make me feel sad about humanity, but it doesn’t mean a movie that does is bad. It’s worth seeing and wondering what Baumbach was going for with this small and personal story.