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The Squid and the Whale Reviews

Page 1 of 249
Red L

Super Reviewer

October 17, 2013
I haven't been through a divorce, so this is all a little obscure to me, but this movie is believable. Although everyone struggles with the new arrangement - the movie primarily covers the impact on the kids. It bothers me that the parents say they are there for their kids, but really they are not. Both of them are more concerned about themselves than they are about their kids.
Daniel P

Super Reviewer

May 6, 2007
Overall, I liked Noah Baumbach's more-or-less autobiographical divorce story - even though virtually no characters are likeable, and most of them get no closure. The parents are terrible people, the kids have each absorbed the parents' worst traits, and the central metaphor (of a squid and a whale fighting) doesn't show up until the movie's three-quarters over. But on the other hand, this film didn't depress me half as much as I expected it would, and the acting was fantastic. And even though I watched my own parents divorce, I maintained some detachment from this story; it should have shattered me, but having had a similar experience actually left me a little underwhelmed with the the movie... and I think it comes down to characters that I just couldn't identify with. Are they realistic, or are they grotesques? Either way, it's a film that will make you think, even if (at 82 minutes long!) it comes up a little short in both runtime and story. A great one for Wes Anderson fans, but otherwise average. I'm truly of two minds about it.
Spencer S

Super Reviewer

August 8, 2010
Baumbach directs these lovingly eccentric and observational comedies that deepen into the human condition. His films, including "Kicking and Screaming" and "Margot at the Wedding" were indie films that valued heartbreakingly complex characters at different stages in life. This particular film doesn't look to the confusion of being a recent college graduate or being older and yet none the wiser. Looking back at his own childhood, Baumbach broaches the eighties, to his indiscretions as a teenager, and his parents' divorce. Creating characters that read true, that speak with affluence but not thought, and with heart but no reason. Set amidst a tiresome and nasty divorce, two kids, one young and sensitive, the other older and yet just as lost, it seems that at first this charming family drama is centered on the youngest son, played by Owen Kline. He falls into some bad behaviors, doesn't understand the complexities of his parents' personalities, and is the only child to choose sides. It becomes a story about divorce mainly, because the two halves are so different and feuding, but main character Walt (Eisenberg) is definitely the protagonist and the one who goes through the most growth throughout the film. Parents Joan and Bernard (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels) are both intellectually superior, but while one is a downtrodden creative writing professor, pompous and yet primitive, and his wife is gaining momentum in the literary world, they both are grasping for a new foothold, and for the love of their children. A beautifully developed and thoughtfully odd film that never rushes to say its peace.
Alice S

Super Reviewer

November 22, 2009
Calmly complex, inappropriately funny, delightfully pretentious, Jesse...ly Eisenberg...ian. This film captures small, disturbing moments with an objective lens, and the demons of each character allow me to accept without derision. Jeff Daniels plays the worst kind of literati snob, and I especially enjoy the pairs of foils - how each son sides with one or the other parent, then they switch by the end.
Apeneck F

Super Reviewer

April 21, 2012
There's who and what we want to be ... and there's who and what we are, coupled together with the anxiety that neither is accepted while hoping that everything will be okay. A divorce drama here that navigates the nuances of all that, and the effect such tragicomedies have on us all, amazingly done with humility and forgiveness by Noah Baumbach, and facillitated by a superb cast hitting on all cylinders.
cosmo313
cosmo313

Super Reviewer

November 14, 2011
With the greatest amount of respect, I would like to compliment this film on being, essentially, "Woody Allen light". It is a finely observed independent dramedy that is a semi-autobiographichal story about how a divorce effects primarily two siblings, but their bickering also.

The story is set in Brooklyn in 1986. Bernard Berkman is a writer whose career has stalled, so he focuses primarily on being an English professor. His wife Joan also writes, and her prospects for success seem to be on the rise. Their marriage has long been flailing, but when they decide to make an official split, that's when things get really interesting. Their oldest son Walt is 16, and takes after hsi dad quite a lot, but while his father's pretentiousness seems more genuine, Walt is just a poser, and he may not even realize it. Frank is 12 and his hormones have really begun to rage. He spends his spare time drinking PBR, and masturbating, spreading his semen across places such as school lockers and the library.

It doesn't take long for the kids ot choose sides, with the bulk of the film being a battle of sorts between personalities, the effect of the split on the kids, and a character study on how each of them views the world and comes to learn a lesson of some sort. Along the way Joan begins a little something with Frank's tennis instructor Ivan, while Bernard raises eyebrows by letting one of his students- a 20 year-old coed who writes racy, provocative fiction named Lili- stay with him until she can find a new place to live.

I can't say that I personally have lived through the specific sorts of things that take place here, but I do know (quite well in some cases) the types of people portrayed here enough to say that the film really nails it, espeically the cloying pretentious intellectuals who just don't get it sometimes and the ridiculous, though not implausible pet names some people give their children (Joan refers to Walt and Frank and chicken and pickle, respectively). The film seems like it borders on caricature at times, but ultimately, these are real characters, and this is a very genuine and honest piece of work.

The casting and the performances are brilliant. Jeff Daniels, sporting a nice looking full beard is in top form as Bernard, and Laura Linney gives another solid turn as Joan. As Walt, Jesse Eisenberg shows an early version of his Zuckerberg, and he does a great job at playing the burgeoning (though clueless) intellectual poser. As Frank, newcomer Owen Kline (the son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) is a revelation, and I'd love to see him get more work. William Baldwin puts in fine supporting work as Ivan, Anna Paquin is great as Lili, and her character is good enough to have her own movie. Halley Feifer is okay as Walt's potential squeeze Sophie, though she kinda gets the short end of the stick in the long run.

All in all, this is an excellent film, and I highly recommend it. It can be quite awkward and painful at times, but also painfully funny as well. It's not for all tastes, but if you like off beat indies that are about pretentious people, but aren't themselves pretentious, then give this one a watch.
blkbomb
blkbomb

Super Reviewer

December 7, 2011
Walt Berkman: It's like... we were pals then... we'd do things together... we'd look at the knight armor at the Met. The scary fish at the Natural History Museum. I was always afraid of the squid and whale fighting. I can only look at it with my hands in front of my face.

"Joint Custody Blows."

The Squid and the Whale is one of the most honest looks at a divorce torn family that I have ever seen. No unnecessary melodrama is added to the situation. Everything that occurs because of the divorce is realistic and understandable. The film is funnyand sad in the way it approaches the story.

The movie opens on a family of four playing tennis together. Competitive sports always bring out the worst in people, especially when they are already mad. We can see after the first tennis match scene, that the husband/wife relationship isn't on the best of terms. The two end up separating and deciding on a joint custody where their two kids change houses practically every night, but like in most separations, each kid picks the one he likes and tries to only be with that parent.

I loved this movie, but genuinely hated all four of the characters. The father, a writer, was a pretentious and egotistical dick. The mother seemed like the best of the two, but still had cheated on her husband. That isn't exactly why I hate her though because you can't really blame her. The biggest reason I hate both of them is because their messed up relationship screwed their kids up. The oldest of the brothers is like his father. He is also a pretentious and egotistical dick. The youngest tries to be the opposite of his father and is severely messed up. He does some weird shit, like masturbating in public places.

The whole cast really brings their A-game. Jeff Daniels performance is the best I have ever seen from him. Jesse Eisenberg gives an equally solid early performance that kid of showed what was to come with The Social Network. Laura Linney also gives an extremely realistic performance, which ended up being my favorite performance I have seen from her.

I thought this movie was just about as perfect as these divorce/family dramas go. It's up at the level of Kramer vs. Kramer, and that is really saying something. The Squid and the Whale is a must see.
Graham J

Super Reviewer

October 27, 2011
Baumbach's look at divorce is the work of a great writer/director and it shows that he can hang with his friend Wes Anderson.
theunknownhobo
theunknownhobo

Super Reviewer

September 5, 2011
Insightful, funny and painfully genuine, this movie is a black comedy in the rough. Heartfelt performances from the entire cast depicting insufferable intellects and a severely fractured family. Deeply moving, this movie manages to depict real people, in a real situation with sometimes completely unreal but masterfully honest outcomes. A truly magnificent piece of cinema.
Fernando Rafael Q

Super Reviewer

August 9, 2009
At first glance, everything is sort of light and funny, but once it gets going, it's a really painful and heavy movie. The characters aren't exactly likeable (and you know they aren't when you find yourself siding with a 12-year old who curses, drinks beer and masturbates in the school library and his cheating mother), but the talented cast presents them as strangely sympathetic. Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg and especially Laura Linney and Owen Kline are superb.
paul o.
paul o.

Super Reviewer

January 21, 2011
Joint custody blows.
This tale of a modern day divorced family is both sad but true. With amazing performances from Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg, this is one of Noah Baumbach's best films.
Rubia

Super Reviewer

November 26, 2010
she: you're calling me a bitch?
he: no, don`t you remember the last line of Godard`s bout de souffle? Belmondo calls Seberg a bitch.

Noah Baumbach gives us not only an honest portrayal of a marriage falling apart and the difficults of growing up, but also the process of falling apart our self-assumed/created masks and roles.
Are you a philistine or a non-philistine? Apparently complex, but deep down nothing but "common" characters. As Nietzsche would say: human, all too human.


stevenecarrier
stevenecarrier

Super Reviewer

November 27, 2010
"The Squid and the Whale" is brisk and dense. Expertly performed and written. Unflinchingly, desperately honest; just like it's characters.
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

September 20, 2010
Ordinary People has got a lot to answer for. Ever since Robert Redford?s terribly smug debut won the Best Picture Oscar in 1980, there have been a string of films from Hollywood which consist of rich, successful people complaining about how hard it is being rich and successful. But very few of these films are as annoying, or grating or wretchedly self-obsessed as Noah Baumbach?s The Squid and the Whale.

To give credit where it?s due, The Squid and the Whale is technically well-directed for a film of its size and budget. The lighting is decent, the camerawork is fairly professional and the sound quality is okay. You clearly aren?t just watching a collection of home videos with all the colours drained out in a desperate bid to look arty. And the film does manage to evoke its period setting rather well: there aren?t any obvious errors in the cultural references, and the costumes do look the part.

But really, you know you?ve got a stinker on your hands when a film billed as a gripping family drama can only be praised for its lighting and costumes. If you want a film that?s technically well-shot and evokes its 1980s period setting, go back and watch Back to the Future, or Gregory?s Girl, or if you?re really desperate, Dirty Dancing.

Whereas these films gave us families which felt genuine, with characters you wanted to spend time with, The Squid and the Whale has you hating the characters after ten minutes and the relationship goes downhill from there. Walt?s family of uptight, pretentious pseudo-intellectuals never stop complaining about how difficult their lives are ? despite the fact they have enough money to rent two houses, can afford to send their kids to nice schools, and live in one of the richest parts of New York City. When Laura Linney?s mother gets published in The New Yorker, she reacts with all the enthusiasm of someone who found some chewing gum on her shoe.

It is perfectly possible to make films about characters that are completely detached from the real world and make their stories interesting or compelling. On the one hand, we have all the best work of Woody Allen or Nicole Holofcener, who peel through the neurotic anxiety of the American elite to produce genuinely moving and poignant drama. On the other hand, we have something like Savage Grace, which uses the distance of its characters to savage the lifestyle which produced them, using Barbara Baekeland?s mental and sexual decay to illustrate the horrors of a world governed by limitless wealth and limited responsibilities.

But because the story of The Squid and the Whale is semi-autobiographical, Baumbach actively celebrates the artistic detachment of his adolescence. Jesse Eisenberg, clearing standing in for Baumbach, is the annoying intellectual kid who spouts off nonsense about Kafka and Fitzgerald having never read a damn thing by either. He has the arrogance to pretend that he wrote Pink Floyd?s ?Hey You?, explaining to the school?s psychiatrist that he was good enough to write it, and the fact that it was already written was ?a technicality?. For all the arrogance that surrounds The Wall, and all the flaws with Alan Parker?s adaptation, Pink Floyd?s work has acres more to say about the traumas of growing up than this self-indulgent piece of waffle.

Having already wrecked a great Pink Floyd song, the film proceeds to trash a couple of other great works. At one point Walt and his dad go to a screening of David Lynch?s Blue Velvet; we are shown the climactic scene in which Dorothy Vallens turns up naked at Jeffrey Beaumont?s house, shocking his girlfriend Sandy and frightening the life out of the rest of us.

That would be fine, but as the following scenes play out it becomes clear that Baumbach is trying to stage his own version of Blue Velvet. Sophie, Walt?s girlfriend, is the safe refuge that Sandy is to Jeffrey, while Anna Paquin?s student is the darker-haired, more risky option that Dorothy represents. The fact that Walt ditches Sophie later in the film is a smug attempt by Baumbach, not just to put him up there with one of America?s greatest directors, but to point out where he went wrong in the process. Add in a backhanded reference to the Eraserhead baby and you get one very irritated film fan.

The dialogue in The Squid and the Whale is just as irritating and off-putting as the actors who deliver it. Almost every line could be construed as a snooty put-down, and the family has a very low opinion of anyone who is neither a family member or a writer of some kind. Bernard keeps telling his son Frank that he shouldn?t aspire to be a tennis player. He calls his tutor a philistine, and when asked what that means, he answers: ?a guy who doesn?t care about books or interesting movies and things.? Later, he uses his last moments before being loaded into an ambulance to call his wife a bitch, and decry her reservations about Jean-Luc Godard?s A Bout de Souffle.

In the midst of all this hoity-toity bitch-slapping, the film attempts to play to a broader crowd by introducing bawdy subplots about the boys? emerging sexuality. Walt gets a hand-job off-screen from Sophie and apologises for ?finishing? so quickly, while Frank humps a shelf and smears his locker and library books with semen. At least when Porky?s or Lemon Popsicle tried such gross-out nonsense, it was within a deeply adolescent context, and could at least be tolerated as being within the expected tone. In a film like The Squid and the Whale, which tries desperately to prove how clever and sophisticated it is, it?s completely misjudged and deeply embarrassing.

On top of all that, the film lacks any positive depictions of women. Joan Berkman, played by Laura Linney, has abuse heaped on her throughout; her eldest son likens their home to a brothel and blames all their problems on her. We also have to believe that someone as beautiful and intelligent as Anna Paquin (Rogue from the X-Men movies) would be instantly attracted to Jeff Daniel?s ageing, arrogant lothario. Girlfriends come and go as the men please, and Sophie?s affections are rebuffed by Walt?s constant desire to seem on a higher intellectual plane.

The bottom line in all of this is: why would you want to spend time with these people? Why would you want to spend time with characters who do nothing but argue, moan and complain about things which are either irrelevant or insignificant? Film reviewers spend years of their lives persuading people to be adventurous with their film choices, choosing films which don?t reflect their circumstances but which might appeal on a higher level. The Squid and the Whale is the kind of film that would make people reconsider, lower their expectations in life, and go back to watching Michael Bay ? because hey, sometimes stuff blowing up is more entertaining.

The Squid and the Whale is one of the smuggest, most self-satisfied films in living memory. It seems to have been made entirely for the intellectual has-beens it depicts, which probably explains its level of acclaim in America. For the rest of us, who can?t sit around complaining all day, it has nothing which is remotely engaging, or relevant, or emotionally involving: it doesn?t even have a proper ending. Like its characters, it has a bunch of ideas, none of which are its own, but no heart and very little soul.
flixsterman
flixsterman

Super Reviewer

January 5, 2009
"...we grow up by absorbing what is useful in our parents and forgiving what is not" -Roger Ebert

Anyone who has experienced the pain of divorce will be able to relate to this deeply layered drama. The details may differ but the essence is universally familiar.

I've never seen dysfunctionality presented quite this way. It's at once imaginative and realistic. I found myself being put-off by characters I could identify with. (What does that say about me?!) Director Noah Baumbach has given us a richly dimensional family and unflinchingly dissected it. There is not a dishonest moment in the entire film. Fantastic, from beginning to end.
LorenzoVonMatterhorn
LorenzoVonMatterhorn

Super Reviewer

December 5, 2008
"Joint Custody Blows."

Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980's.

REVIEW
Often, a heavy story like this is delivered to the viewer via a heavy dose of depressing scenes with an after taste that makes you want to avoid all family films in the future. This movie, refreshingly avoids doing so. Instead, a sad moment in the movie is preceded by, includes, or is follower through by a funny line or situation helping to cope with the difficult subjects. Also, the film is very modest in its goal as it only focuses on a relatively short period of time that begins with a couple's desire to split and ends when each involved character (the parents and their two boys) finally comes to terms with the reality of the irreversible change. The writing is fantastic and matches the acting and the visuals.
LWOODS04
LWOODS04

Super Reviewer

August 9, 2009
JEFF DANIELS, LAURA LINNEY, JESSE EISENBERG, OWEN KLINE, ANNA PAQUIN, WILLIAM BALDWIN

Bernard Berkman, the patriarch of an eccentric Brooklyn family, claims to have been a famous novelist but is now reduced to teaching. His wife Joan discovers a literary talent of her own, and it breaks up the family, leaving the two teenage sons, Walt, 16, and Frank, 12, divided between their parents. The wife starts an affair with her younger son's tennis coach, while the husband starts sleeping with a student whom his elder son is courting.

Uncomfortable, awkward, disturbing, and really raw. That is what I came away with from watching this film. The bluntness of it all was a bit of a shocker. I don't know if I've seen a movie where it was just as blunt as each of these characters where. Strong performances by Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberger, and kudos to the little boy Owen Kline. Wow. He probably must have felt very uncomfortable filming some of those scenes for his age. Very honest look at divorce and the outcomes it has on the parents and the children. This movie has a bit of the shock value. Well it did for me. The acting was so great and real that I sometimes felt like I was ease dropping into there private affairs. Very rare feeling to have watching a movie. But it just made me feel like I shouldn't be watching them go through something so awkward and personal. So great job to the actor's and the writer/director to make it feel so real. Great Indie flick. Great watch.
Conner R

Super Reviewer

November 16, 2009
What I think I love about this so much, is that the characters are so ruthless and dead on. Finally a movie where people aren't so nice all the time. Not one character is perfect, they're all screwed up in their own way. It makes it easier to like a character when they aren't built up to be this perfect incarnation of a human being. Everyone acts based on their own wants/needs in this movie, not the most honorable or likable actions.
Anthony L

Super Reviewer

September 29, 2009
I hate the expression 'Coming of Age' but I guess this is what this film is but it?s not just 'Coming of age' for the young characters, everyone has growing up to do in this very sweet and honest film!
Dan S

Super Reviewer

September 16, 2007
An original, well-written story concerning divorce and its effects on a family. Instead of going the super dramatic route that has been used before, Baumbach chooses a breezier, comedic one that hits all the right notes (up until the very end, which feels a tad "too Hollywood". Jeff Daniels, one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, is superb, and young Eisenberg matches him yard for yard. What's cool about this movie is that the family all talk to each other like they're friends, it's a dysfunctional, broken up family that is fearless and honest with each other, which sadly ends up costing them a lot in the end.
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