Joint custody blows. That’s what The Squid and the Whale promotes.Following in a long line of dysfunctional family indies, divorce is thetopic which this latest offering revolves around. Already hailed as one ofthe year’s best movies in the US, it arrives with awards and hype tospare.
Based around writer/director Noah Baumbach’s childhood experiences, thefilm follows the Berkman family as they head towards a separation. The fatherBernard (Jeff Daniels) is an author turned professor and the mother Joan (LauraLinney) is a housewife turned author. Their relationship has soured, and we witness the fall-out through the eyes of their twochildren Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline).
The Squid and the Whale bears an uncanny resemblance to the films of WesAnderson, in particular The Royal Tenenbaumswhich is no coincidence, as he’s the films producer. However, it’s not just his movie, and Baumbachbrings his own brand of painful realism to the proceedings, something which never enteredAnderson’s self-consciously quirky films.
For anyone who’s gone through a divorce, or been in a family where it hasstruck, there is a striking familiarity to the film. The trials of who spendswhich night with who, who is allowed to tell who what or what belongingsbelong to who all ring frighteningly true. The characters in the film allspeak with a brutal honesty, something which real families tend to do.
Jeff Daniels is that rare type of actor who seems to be improving with age. Gone arethe goofy comic roles of the 90′s, here he gives arguably his greatestperformance as the selfish, snobby patriarch. Laura Linney rarelydisappoints, and although she has less to play with than Daniels she stillleaves a lasting impression. But as the film is largely seen through the twoboy’s eyes, they are the ones you’ll remember.
Jesse Eisenberg does a great turn as the older son, and hisenduring loyalty to his father’s ideals is both endearing and sad. But the realstandout of the family is 14-year-old Owen Kline, son of Kevin. With hisfirst major role, he nevertheless delivers great comic timing and alsoinvests credibility in his sometimes unlikely actions. This surely will be thestart of a illustrious career.
The film copes with many of the darker sides of family strifeby littering the script with awkward humour. As critics have alreadysuggested, you’d cry but you’re too busy laughing. The film only falterssomewhat when it reaches the final act. The climax is rather, well, anti-climactic,and the squid and the whale metaphor is a little unsuccessful. But these areminor quibbles. It manages to be so evocative of a place and a time and asituation that you never once question what you’re seeing. It may prove tooclose to the bone for some but then that’s all part of its charm. I mean,how many characters in X Men can you say that you really relate to?