Opening 11 May 2006
Writer/director Noah Baumbach (Mr. Jealousy, Kicking and Screaming) presents a semi-autobiographical tale in The Squid and the Whale, a film about divorce and its devastating effects on a family. Baumbach’s alter ego is Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg of Roger Dodger), the older son of self-centered professor Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and aspiring writer Joan (Laura Linney). Walt idolizes Bernard, while younger son Frank (Owen Kline, son of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) identifies more with Joan. The family has held together shakily despite a rocky few years, but when things finally come to a head on an ordinary day in 1986 and Bernard and Joan announce they’re separating, the boys’ lives unravel. The rest of the film shows their struggles to adapt to their new existence and accept their parents in this new, rather unflattering light.
The Squid and the Whale won numerous awards in 2005, including directing and screenwriting awards for Baumbach at Sundance and Best Picture from the American Film Institute. Daniels and Linney were also nominated for Golden Globes; and indeed, the best aspect of this film is the acting. All four of the leads are brilliant: Eisenberg and Kline are completely believable as children uprooted by divorce, and Daniels and Linney manage to make the audience care about their characters despite their numerous non-endearing traits. However, I felt the film was lacking a reason for being; although it presented a realistic slice of life (and was probably cathartic for Baumbach), at the end I was left wondering what Baumbach was trying to say. Overall, I came away with the understanding that divorce is a whale of an upheaval but little other insight into how to get through it. (Kirsten Greco)