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The Squid and the Whale
2005 - R - 80 min. Mins.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Producer: Wes Anderson, Reverge Anselmo, Miranda Bailey, Greg Johnson, Andrew Lauren
Written By: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin, Halley Feiffer
Review by: Ben Samara
Official Site:

Let the healing begin...
With "The Squid and the Whale", writer/director Noah Baumbach has managed to find redemption in less than a year. It was around this time in 2004 that "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" – which he co-wrote with Wes Anderson – hit theaters with a resounding thud. This time around, Baumbach has crafted a delightfully quirky "dramedy" about the anguish of divorce that is a hit on every level. With richly developed characters and a wonderfully unique and intriguing storyline, "The Squid and the Whale" is one of the best films of the year.

"Squid" follows the Berkmans, a family of four living in Brooklyn in the 1980s. From the opening scene we see that something isn’t quite right, as Bernard (Jeff Daniels) instructs his son, Walter (Jesse Eisenberg), to aim at his mother during a "friendly" game of tennis.

From this, we learn that competition is key to the Berkmans. Bernard used to be an accomplished author, but now he’s all washed up and his wife, Joan (Laura Linney), is beginning to have her short stories published instead. This, among other things, isn’t sitting well with Bernard. He’s an ultra-competitive and extremely opinionated man, and this seems to be the last straw in a complicated marriage.

Of course, the Berkmans don’t just get divorced because of one reason. There are many, but Baumbach is smart enough to leave most of them ambiguous. Bernard and Joan sit down Walter and his brother, Frank (Owen Kline), to inform them that they will be separating. As the weeks pass by, the two boys attempt to come to grips with the separation, at a crucial age when they are still discovering themselves and their sexuality.

The actions of Bernard and Joan have a profound effect on the development of their children. Young Frank begins to drink beer and habitually masturbate, while Walter considers becoming a womanizer on his father’s advice. It is interesting to see Walter, in particular, contemplate which side to take in the battle between mother and father. As the older male in the family, he initially sides with his role model, his father. He even begins to think and act like him. Soon, though, the battle lines become much foggier.

"Squid" is a painfully real account, thanks in large part to the efforts of its cast. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to get by when you’re working with the best script of the year, but Daniels somehow goes above and beyond the call of duty as Bernard. This is unequivocally the best performance of his career. It’s a shame he will probably be overlooked in the crowded Best Actor race at the Oscars this year, but he is certainly worthy of any accolades he receives and then some. His deadpan delivery – much in the vein of Bill Murray – is the perfect style for the character of Bernard, an arrogant, yet enormously insecure man.

Linney only helps matters as Joan. You believe the Berkmans once had a deep love for one another, because you can clearly see it in their eyes. The couple’s "anti-chemistry" oozes from the screen, and Linney’s fiery, "no-regrets" attitude counters Daniels with ease.

Finally, young actor Jesse Eisenberg gives what will probably be the most overlooked supporting performance of the year. As the insecure Walter, Eisenberg is our guide to the pain that divorce causes the children involved. As Walter sees his parents going their separate ways, he doesn’t know how to react. Like Daniels, Eisenberg keeps his poker face on for most of the film. It’s exactly what the personality of Walter calls for, especially with so many situations rife with both comedic and dramatic elements.

It all comes back to Baumbach, though, who has succeeded in bringing to the screen an unprecedented perspective on a tremendously difficult issue. By the end of "Squid", we know these characters in and out. Every motion, every line is real to the core. These are beautifully shaped, engaging individuals that will delight you from start to finish, even as they are forced to suffer through heartbreak themselves.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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