Published Nov 01, 2005The stereotypical "film for adults" is usually a Woody Allen knockoff involving genteel surroundings and intellectual name-dropping, which makes The Squid and the Whale seem an incredibly refreshing riposte to the genre.
True to form, it has a snobbish father (Jeff Daniels) whose writing career has hit a slump, and a mother (Laura Linney) whose literary career has taken off. As the film begins, the marriage has hit the skids and their two sons (the teenaged Jesse Eisenberg and pre-pubescent Owen Kline) find their loyalties painfully divided. But though the film is set in a world of writing classes and New Yorker pieces, that's where the similarity with its tweedy brethren ends.
Daniels proves to be a nightmare vision of intellectual arrogance, a man who's sharpened his mind at the expense of his empathy and sees anyone beneath his level as a mouth-breathing waste of oxygen. And he infects the eldest son with all his bad habits, making it impossible for the boy to have a relationship that doesn't involve the worship of mental gymnastics.
The film is far from anti-intellectual though, and is supremely nuanced in its rendering of the characters, the dynamics of divorce and the mid-'80s milieu in which it's set. But it uses its intelligence instead of simply relying on it, and fleshes out a position on its characters instead of flaunting references and Bergman-esque suffering.
Though it sort of forces a climax and rushes the denouement, there's no denying its achievement. It's at once warmly generous and sharply painful, self-critical and self-knowing. In other words: a film for adults. (Capri)