The Squid & The Whale Noah Baumbach

The Squid & The Whale Noah Baumbach
Eleven years ago, an unknown writer/director dropped a low budget Gen X dramedy called Kicking and Screaming on art house cinemas that portrayed a group of college alumni struggling to cut the academic umbilical cord and enter the real world. Tragically underrated and to this day still unavailable on DVD (though Criterion is working on fixing that), the film is a poignant piece of work that combines anxiously real circumstances with timely humour. In 2005, the same still relatively unknown writer/director returned after an eight-year absence spent mostly spent trying to get this film made. Though it's still early in his career, The Squid & The Whale is Noah Baumbach's masterpiece. A semi-autobiographical tale, Baumbach spent a good five years trying to get this loose account of his childhood made. Setting his sights on the Berkman family as the parents — writers Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) — undergo a divorce, Baumbach explores family dynamics through four characters (including two Berkman children played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) and the negative effects that the separation has on each family member. With a razor-sharp wit embedded in Baumbach's screenplay, his characters live in an intellectualised world that creates unhealthy relationships where language and feelings are disconnected. The always-surprising Daniels is at the top of his game, à la Something Wild or The Purple Rose of Cairo, transforming a failed yet arrogant scholarly writer into one of the most fascinating and enjoyable characters of the past year. Where was his Oscar nod? The same can be asked about Linney, and even the two children, who give frighteningly brilliant and compellingly mature performances. Hats off to Baumbach for shunning the traditional audio commentary, instead choosing what he wants to discuss over top of related stills. His sincerity is admirable and he hits the nail on the head when he confesses to a hatred for sitting through commentaries, being subjected to the producer discussing the logo. An interview with the director is also featured, which sheds even more light on his relationship with the film, thanks to a grilling by writer Phillip Lopate. Plus: behind the scenes featurette. (Sony)