Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, Eisenberg, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin

"Joint custody blows"

If you didn't know any better, you would assume that "The Squid and the Whale" is the title of an animation movie. Or some fairy tale with an uplifting moral lesson. On the contrary even though this film does have kids in it, it isn't exactly an enchanting story but a complex tale of the aftermath of a divorce and how it affects the children. Written and directed by Noam Baumbach, he based this story on his brother and his own childhood experiences. This realistically incisive human drama bagged him the Best Director and Best Screenplay award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

Bernard, a disillusioned professor and former novelist still hopeful of getting re-published and Joan his neglected wife now shining in her own literary light decide to divorce so they inform their children about the new living arrangements. Disruptive as it may be, the kids have no choice but to accept the terms. Both children rebel against the situation in their own distinct ways. Walt, the older son is an impressionable teenager on the throes of discovering young love and he gets into trouble in school by plagiarising a Pink Floyd song. He is more inclined to take the side of his intellectually oriented father whom he worships. Frank who is about 12 years old resorts to drinking, uses foul language at the drop of a hat and develops this self gratifying sexual habit with disturbing consequences for such a young boy.

Their story unfolds with some funny scenes (mostly in the dialogue) which combine with some dramatic sequences and is set in Brooklyn in the mid 80s. It seems to have this 'autumny' tone. Drab with dreary downcast yet well developed characters, it is also peppered with songs from the 70s and 80s era. The subject (the aftermath of a divorce) although quite a sensitive matter is presented in such a honest and simplistic manner, you can't help but be drawn into the situation.
Good credible acting performances by the entire cast adds up to a well crafted storyline. Jeff Daniels complete with a salt and pepper scruffy beard fits the bill as the intellectual snob who patronizes people with his superiority complex. His character refers to "people who doesn't care about books, interesting films and things" as Philistines. Laura Linney, though could have used more exposure as Joan. Although she is in most of the scenes, she seems to somehow fade in the background. It is the children portrayed by the young actors who carry the whole movie. They made their somewhat 'flawed' characters very engagingly interesting to watch. Especially the younger son who has such a meaty role. He is portrayed by Owen Kline who just happens to be the son of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. Come to think of it, he does have the features of his mother and the artistic talent of his father.

As to what the title refers to well there can be different interpretations to the symbolism of the Squid and the Whale for Walt. For me, I believe it was sort of an epiphany, a defining moment for the older son - a point when he realized that he can stand up against his father's rather prejudiced opinions about everything and also coming to terms with the fact that his mother isn't as morally bad as he deemed her to be. Or it could simply be a repressed childhood memory of a pleasant time he shared with his mother. I recommend you to watch this film and come up with your opinion on the significance of the squid and the whale vis a vis the Berkman family.

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