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