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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 38.46%
Average: 13.85%
Pretty Bad: 1.54%
Total Crap: 6.15%

7 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Squid and the Whale, The
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by William Goss

"Divorce, American Style"
4 stars

"Together we stand, divided we fall." This line from Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” serves as the reprise for 'The Squid and the Whale,' a searing portrait of the effects of divorce on a Brooklyn family circa 1986 that doubles as a showcase for the poignant performances of Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, and Jeff Daniels.

As they become increasingly competitive (her writing career’s on the rise as his is steadily slipping away) and conflicting, Joan and Bernard Berkman (Linney and Daniels) decide to divorce, sharing joint custody of their two sons, Walt (Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline, son of Kevin). The older Walt sides with his father, regardless of his endless self-importance, while the younger Frank favors his mother, regardless of her several indiscretions.

Divorce manages to amplify the emotional impact of most every aspect of the lives it affects. The tennis court the family frequents transforms into a battleground of sorts, particularly when Joan begins to become involved with Frank’s tennis instructor, the mellow Ivan (William Baldwin). Meanwhile, Bernard gets a run-down house, insisting to his sons that it’s “the fillet of the neighborhood.” The house also contains a ping-pong table, allowing for several small-scale squabbles throughout table tennis. Walt shifts his priorities to girls while passing off “Hey You” as his own song (the tune becomes an anthem of sorts for the story), and Frank opts to become increasingly deviant in his behavior, including drinking, cursing, and, in a particularly awkward subplot, applying himself in school, in a manner of speaking.

Linney and Daniels turn in fascinating performances as opponents in their very own war of the worlds. Linney’s character, though guilty of affairs, still demonstrates a sense of stalwart confidence in her stance. Daniels tarnishes his nice-guy image in the best possible way as an intellectual whose superiority complex only causes him further difficulty and strife. Newcomer Kline offers a compelling depiction of a truly lost child, but it is Eisenberg alone who is the closest thing to the soul of the film. The divorce impacts his adolescence most directly, and he ends up stuck between both camps when right and wrong are rarely defined. Anna Paquin makes a supporting appearance as a student and love interest of Bernard’s who move in with him and the boys, and both her and Baldwin deliver adequate remoteness from the family’s problems.

With little details and sharp observations, the semi-autobiographical film takes on a genuine form of catharsis for writer/director Noah Baumbach. Select scenes, such as an early one in which Joan stashes books in Frank’s room for safekeeping until after the divorce, ring too true to be fiction. The dialogue is crisp and authentic, creating laughs from a source of honesty that simply cannot be scripted. While there are more laughs than tears, the humor is often a product of heartbreak, a cringe-inducing remark or harsh glare that one cannot help but respond to with a bittersweet chuckle.

The film comes to an abrupt end with the appearance of the titular metaphor, but it only supports the fact that there is simply the separation and its aftermath. There are no clean-cut heroes or villains, and there is never a proper climax in real life. Nothing is black and white, and it is the gray matter that makes the dynamics of divorce here so engrossing. Life goes on, but with 'The Squid and the Whale,' there is beauty in the breakdown.

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originally posted: 11/01/05 17:45:09
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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.

User Comments

6/01/10 User Name A well-acted look at the effect divorce has on families. 4 stars
4/11/10 brian All characters unlikeable. Soundtrack wildly intrusive. Fingernails on chalkboard. 2 stars
3/08/10 Samantha Pruitt very weird movie, i'm not sure how i feel about it 3 stars
1/29/09 mo914 I LOVE OWEN KLINE 5 stars
1/27/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 5 stars
1/23/08 LJ the sperm-smearing scenes are beyond distasteful- *puke* 1 stars
11/02/06 skk Fabulous, Moving... Spot On 5 stars
9/28/06 ES convoluted, too short & no real closure at the end, interesting at times, but unexceptional 3 stars
8/17/06 Mary Beth character study; enjoyable to watch things fall to hell 5 stars
5/31/06 Indrid Cold Funny, engaging and whip-smart. Unfortunately, it's also pointless. 4 stars
4/19/06 Jung Texican Hilarious AND painful examination of the worst broken family behavior 4 stars
4/03/06 Monday Morning Tremendously enjoyable -- "understated elegance" 5 stars
3/30/06 Phil M. Aficionado The performances take it above average; otherwise, nothing special 4 stars
1/19/06 jcjs so acting...delightful...clever 5 stars
12/31/05 Norman Acting was supurb by the four main charactors,and found all the leads interesting.i 4 stars
12/10/05 T michol I wasted $16 1 stars
12/01/05 letty too close to home! Great performances especially by the young actors. 5 stars
11/24/05 jack totally overrated 1 stars
10/18/05 Sheila Good performances 5 stars
10/11/05 Beautifully crafted drama based too much on the pain of divorce, particularly for children. 4 stars
10/10/05 Nic Oatridge Well directed, but directionless storyline and no likeable characters 3 stars
9/29/05 E. Northam An intelligent & literate screenplay; well-acted; the film "Thumbsucker" failed to be. 4 stars
9/15/05 Mike Humt WTF is this? 1 stars
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  05-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Mar-2006



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Noah Baumbach

Written by
  Noah Baumbach

  Jeff Daniels
  Laura Linney
  Jesse Eisenberg
  Owen Kline
  Billy Baldwin
  Anna Paquin

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