out of Five
Running time: 98
Beautifully written, moving and frequently hilarious drama with terrific performances and superb, Oscar-nominated dialogue – this is one of the best films of the year.
What’s it all about?
Written and directed by Wes Anderson collaborator Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale is essentially a semi-autobiographical account of the divorce of his own parents, novelist Jonathan Baumbach and critic Georgia Brown. The heavily symbolic title comes from the Natural History Museum diorama of a squid and a whale locked in a death-grip struggle.
Set in Brooklyn in 1986, the film stars Jeff Daniels as Bernard, a once critically lauded author, reduced to teaching literature classes. His wife Joan (Laura Linney) has just started her own career as a writer and when they begin divorce proceedings, their two sons -teenage Walt (Jesse Eisenberg, from Roger Dodger) and 12 year old Frank (Owen Kline, son of Kevin) – are quick to take sides.
Baumbach’s deservedly Oscar-nominated script is sharply observed and crackles with brilliant dialogue. He also pulls off a remarkable balancing act. It’s hard to think of any other film that can make you laugh so hard whilst also being desperately, painfully sad.
Jeff Daniels is simply fantastic as Bernard – pay attention to his eyes throughout the film (although you don't have much choice, as his huge beard obscures everything else anyway). Laura Linney is as good as she always is – her face tells you everything you need to know about their marriage.
However, it’s the kids who steal the film. Frank’s adventures in swearing are a particular highlight, while Walt’s pretentious comments are increasingly hilarious. Intriguingly, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, but the film is utterly compelling from beginning to end.
In short, The Squid and the Whale is a brilliantly written, superbly acted film that is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreakingly sad. Quite simply, it’s one of the best films of the year. Highly recommended.
The Squid And The Whale