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The Squid and the Whale
4/5
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Noah Baumbach
with Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin, Halley Feiffer, David Benger, Adam Rose, Henry Glovinsky, Eli Gelb, Hector Otero
release US 5.Oct.05, UK 7.Apr.06
05/US Destination 1h28

Estranged behaviour: Daniels and Linney

eisenberg baldwin paquin

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The Squid and the Whale Set in 1986 Brooklyn, it's difficult to see this as anything but autobiographical. And it certainly has a bracing tone of authenticity, recounting a marriage break-up with startling, unflinching realism.

Bernard and Joan (Daniels and Linney) are straining at the limits of their marriage. The main issue seems to be Joan's burgeoning success as a writer, threatening Bernard's career as a novelist, even if he hasn't written anything publishable for years. Sons Walt (Eisenberg), 16, and Frank (Kline), 12, are quick to take sides. So the break-up isn't remotely smooth. Joint custody raises more problems, and everyone seems locked in a death-grip struggle, somewhat like the Natural History Museum's squid-whale diorama.

Baumbach clearly knows what he's talking about--the script is so astute it raises goosebumps with its literary dialog and insightful observations. Indeed, Baumbach's parents were writers (novelist Jonathan Baumbach and critic Georgia Brown), yet although he sticks closely to Walt's point of view he never moralises; everyone is flawed and self-absorbed, guilty of treating each other cruelly and/or carelessly. He simply highlights the raw fallout as relationships and liaisons shift, and as heroes are revealed as villains.

This is filmed with a gritty, earthy warmth that brilliantly captures the time and place, involving and provoking the audience even if it's never terribly emotionally engaging. The simple fact is that these aren't remotely likeable people. Daniels and Linney are startlingly truthful as the wounded and wounding parents, Eisenberg and Kline fearlessly dive in to their character's most difficult situations, and even Baldwin and Paquin (as a vain tennis pro and a seductive student) shine in pivotal side roles.

This is a complex, bristling film that resonates on many levels without ever overstating its case. Baumbach briskly tells his layered story, filling it with literary and cultural reference points and maintaining a tone that's both funny and bitter--sharply humorous and painfully real--without any sentiment at all. Like the squid battling the whale, it's just a fact of nature. And like the museum display, it'll be frozen in time like this for the rest of their lives.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 12.Nov.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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