Hardly the hearty tale of maritime adventure that the title suggests, “The Squid and the Whale” is a coming-of-age drama that focuses on how the four members of an upper-middle-class New York family and how they react to the imminent divorce of the parents.As the adults–a once-promising writer whose world now revolves around rejection slips and nubile college students (Jeff Daniels) and a long-suffering wife whose own writing career is suddenly taking off (Laura Linney)–enters its final acrimonious stages, their two sons react to the trauma in troubling ways–the older (Jesse Eisenberg) begins to ape his father by lusting after the same girl (a grad student played by Anna Paquin) and affecting the same pretentious attitude (even though he has never actually read them, he dismisses “Tender is the Night” as “minor Fitzgerald” and describes “The Metamorphosis” as “Kafkaesque”). The younger son (Owen Kline) begins to unconsciously emulate his mother’s tendency to leave evidence of her affairs around for all to see by leaving his own unsavory mark wherever he goes.
This semi-autobiographical work from Noah Baumbach (who won prizes for his screenplay and direction at Sundance) is a mixed bag. Some of the plotting is a bit suspect–there is a subplot involving the older son winning a school award for a song that he plagiarized that doesn’t work because it is highly unlikely that none of the characters would have recognized the song in question–and all of the main characters are so unpleasant towards themselves and each other that watching them becomes a chore after a while. On the other hand, Baumbach does have an eye for capturing the look and feel of the world of these characters and Daniels and Linney both turn in strong performances as the parents.I can’t really recommend “The Squid and the Whale” because at a certain point, I just didn’t really care what happened to any of these people. However, if you have a taste for tales of Yuppie ennui, you could do worse than this particular example of the genre.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.