Monday, April 17, 2006

The Squid and the Whale

Ten years after launching his directorial career, Noah Baumbach's 2005 breakthrough feature, The Squid and the Whale, has rightfully earned its "critically acclaimed" status. In one of the most esoteric films I've seen since his partner Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Baumbach has created a poetic storyworld of a family at its breakingpoint. The film is so human, so realistic, that it's frightening to conceive that such a place exists in the homes of our own tree-lined streets. Even more so, it's sobering to think that the children at the center of the emminent divorce in this story, are really as mature as they are.

Jeff Daniels is back on point (after a dreary dry spell of lousy films) in the lead role as an egotistical professor / washed-up author, and sometimes father to his teenage son (in all accounts bent upon becoming his father) and astute younger son (virtually self-destructing from neglect). The great Laura Linney plays the searching mother who's finally had it with her husband's self-centeredness and decides to make it on her own. In the process of separating, the four of them must ultimately come to terms with what it means to be "authentic," no matter what the cost. But, make no mistake about it, the reason you see this film (as it becomes abundantly clear when you watch) is the roles played by the children. Keep an eye out for Owen Kline, the youngest son - the way he got into and portrayed his complex character so knowingly, this kid is going to be huge. And no, William Baldwin isn't as cute or commanding as his brothers, but he might be a better actor, at least in this film. And yes, you're right, it is kinda weird that Anna Paquin plays Jeff Daniels' love interest given that they were father and daughter in Fly Away Home just a few years ago, but maybe it's serendipitously creepy for a reason.

The writing is stellar. The pacing is excellent. Set in 1986, it feels as though it's from another time and place (even if it is only Brooklyn). The camera work is spot-on and intelligently shot. My suspension of disbelief was upset only a couple times when, bearing in mind the storyworld is set in the eighties, I saw a number of cars and products clearly from the current day. But that's the joy of an indie, low(er) budget feature. For more insight to this end, have a look at the "Behind the Scenes" featurette on the DVD - it's a perfect glimpse into the process and plays nicely after viewing. This is a film that touches the heart and doesn't let go.

4 out of 5 stars.


At 6:34 PM, Blogger Jeannette said...

I did like this movie, compared to 99% of the films coming out these days, but somehow I was disappointed. (Maybe because I expected too much after hearing professional reviewers rave over it.) I did have empathy for the children in the movie, but it was hard to like either parent very much. They both had obvious faults. (I guess that's reality!)

I agree that William Baldwin was great as the coach and love interest.

I guess I'm getting old...the only reason I realized it was a period piece was when I realized the song being plagiarized in the film is a bit dated...

Going back to listening too much to reviewers...Did anyone see one of Roger Ebert's favorite films of 2005 "Me and You and Everyone We Know?" I don't know if I'd consider it one of the best of 2005, but it was intriguing. I was unfamiliar with the previous work (if any) of the actors in the film. There was some sexual content regarding minors that made me squirm a bit, but maybe that was intentional. I thought the youth actors in this film were more compelling than those in "The Squid and the Whale," particularly the youngest son.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger anthony said...

Thanks for the recommendation of Me and You and Everyone We Know. I've been meaning to check this one out for a while. It's in the library system, so I should have a copy by this weekend. Looking forward to it. Yeah, I remember Ebert going on and on about how great this was. I generally agree with his position on things. We'll see... thanks again!


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