Saturday, April 22, 2006


The Squid and the Whale Jeff Daniels
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Jeff Daniels
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

Thumbs Down


THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is quite difficult to give a negative review to because I felt it manhandled the parent/child relationship with some great child actors, but failed in every other aspect.

Jeff Daniels stars as Bernard, a writer of minimal fame who’s marriage is on the brink of implosion. We first meet Bernard and his dysfunctional family while they play tennis and quickly learn that his wife Joan (Laura Linney, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) is fed up with her husband’s over-compensating ego related to his failed writing career. But the marriage has lasted nearly sixteen years and produced two children. The eldest, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), is in high school and idolizes his father, so much so that he tries to be just as intellectual as his dad but can’t quite reach the mark. At one point during a talent show he goes so far as to steal a new Pink Floyd song and play it off as his own, thus winning the grand prize. The younger brother, Frank (Owen Kline), is attached to his mother but also loves Walt, and the stress of the marriage’s break-up and subsequent family breakdown leave him with embittered feelings toward everyone, including himself; he starts drinking beer and whiskey, and comparing his looks to his mother.

It is the young boys who really pulled this movie up to a higher standing than it could ever hope to be and the script helped them out, making their portrayals relatively interesting to watch. For instance, as Walt discovers the truth about his father and his mother (how screwed up they both are) he has to come to terms with becoming his own man. It’s a tough realization for anyone to come to and watching Walt battle his younger self only to be bucked back to reality by his new, older self is a great way of showing self actualization.

Young Frank doesn’t have that option, though. He’s too young to know about such things and so acts out against the world around him. He drinks, curses like his father, tries to hate his mother, and ejaculates on library books as a show of defiance towards his parents’ chosen professions (writing).

So that’s the good parts of this award winning flick. But let me tell you about the "not-so-good" parts ...

The cameras used for filming are often handheld and although this can give a sense of interaction on the audiences part, it felt more wobbly than anything.

The script, although interesting, didn’t translate well to film. There’s really no angst one feels for these characters, only a sense of impending depression for what awaits them ("Oh boy, another family dynamic movie with screwed up parents and children. Now where did I put my Prozac?")

And finally, the title of the film is THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. Titles are important to me; they give me a sense of what the film’s going to be about, even if in relative terms. But this title is in reference to something that appeared to be thrown into the movie at the last minute. Now I realize that may not be the case, but that’s how it felt. We never know what this squid and this whale are until three-fourths of the way through the film, as if it was supposed to tie it all up for us in a nice little psychological package. Well it didn’t work for me (I’m not going to give away what THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is in reference to just in case some of you decide to watch the movie).

Psychology students should check out this film for research, but the general population might need to stock up on their anti-depressants before sitting through it.

Click here for The Squid and the Whale movie trailer!


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