THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005)

PrintE-mail Written by Ian White

Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) is a once-promising author whose career has badly hit the skids. Now he’s reduced to teaching, receiving rejection notices for his latest manuscript, and watching while his wife Joan (Laura Linney) gets her short stories printed in prestigious magazines and wins a lucrative book deal with a major publishing house. The couple have two sons – Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and his younger brother Frank (Owen Kline) – and when Bernard and Joan decide to separate, each brother sides with a different parent. Walt, who plays the guitar and passes off the lyrics of Pink Floyd as his own work, is heavily influenced by his father, whereas Frank, who much prefers life with mom and her new tennis coach boyfriend, acts out his inner turmoil by jacking off and smearing his ejaculate across school library books. This is a deeply screwed up family, and when Walt develops a crush on the same student his father is secretly sleeping with, the dynamics aren’t going to get any better.

The Squid and the Whale is a gently brilliant dissection of a family in crisis, and a telling portrait of a husband and father who refuses to accept that his glory days are a long way behind him. Bernard is a fantastic character, arrogant, belligerent, and deeply flawed, and Jeff Daniels’ uncomfortably honest performance is easily the star of the show. But the rest of the cast are no slouches either, and Jesse Eisenberg – whose self-righteous intensity could easily have thrown the whole movie out of whack – is remarkable as the older son who refuses to accept his father’s flaws, taking sides against his mother right from the beautifully written opening scene when the family are playing tennis together and Bernard slyly tells him to aim for Joan’s weakest point. In fact, it’s that quality of writing – the subtle psychological interplay between the damaged couple and their clearly erratic children – that really makes The Squid and the Whale something special, with a marvellous low-key pay-off at the end of the movie. And Criterion’s new 4K transfer, with extras that include a behind the scenes documentary, audition footage, and new interviews with the actors and writer/director Noah Baumbach, is superb. Highly recommended.

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: NOAH BAUMBACH / STARRING: OWEN KLINE, JEFF DANIELS, LAURA LINNEY, JESSE EISENBERG / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

 


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