Green Room Orlando :: Film and Television in Central Florida     jump to ->   New York - Miami - Tampa Bay
Logo/Front Page Link  
Logo/Front Page
<< Back

The Squid and the Whale   (released 10/28/2005)
By Neil Norman

As a kid, I always wondered what the stress of going through a divorce would feel like. I can remember in school, it used to be a stigma: "So and so's parents are divorced." Until, of course, the kids who had experienced divorce in their family started to outnumber the ones who hadn't. This kind of left the kids whose parents were still together feeling perplexed, as the ones who had been through a divorce started telling horror stories, and turning the tables on the ones who used to judge them by creating one of the worst childhood fears: The fear of your parents divorcing.

Indie director Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming) visits the territory of divorce and how it affects all members of the family with The Squid and the Whale, an inspiring comedy about a dark subject. The film, a New York story set in mid-80's Brooklyn, takes its name from an exhibit in the Museum of Natural History, in which a giant squid is locked in a fearsome battle with a Sperm Whale. This visual is a metaphor for the ferocity of the battle between the two spouses and its effect on a young impressionable mind.

The Squid and the Whale tells the story about the Berkman Family and the struggles each member goes through when attempting to deal with the split. Bernard the father, a subtle and nuanced performance by Jeff Daniels, is a novelist who has seen better times and resorted to teaching Creative Writing to make a living. He is having trouble finding a publisher for his newest book, while his wife, played by Laura Linney, has just picked up writing and gets her story in the New Yorker. This adds fuel to the ever increasing flame of marital disintegration brought on by the discovery of Mom's affairs. Caught in the midst of this fierce battle are the two kids, high school aged Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and preteen Frank (Owen Kline). The two kids naturally take sides, as we see in the opening scene of a family tennis game: "Mom and me versus you and Dad." Rules for the separation (including joint custody) are made, broken, and we hurt along with each member of the family as they take their emotional licks.

The acting in this film is its greatest highlight. Baumbach is effective in coaxing stellar performances from each actor. Owen Kline steals the show with his impish turn in which he shows young Frank's devolvement into growing up too fast: Cussing, drinking beer, and learning the explicit details of Mom's affairs. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a few Oscar nods to the performances in this film.

One of the things that I really liked about this film is that it is a bibliophile's movie. Although, the Creative Writing class sequences don't pack as much punch as Storytelling, the love of books and writing by the director (and his family) is evident. Try to see if you can spot all the references and allusions to certain writers and films in the set dressing and dialogue.

This film did really well at Sundance, winning both the Director's Award and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. It is a great stepping stone for Baumbach, whose expertise in comedic writing has already led him to a partnership in Wes Anderson's films. I highly recommend that you go see The Squid and the Whale, divorce in your life or no. The gentle comedy far outweighs the pain. Baumbach deftly shows us that his/our parents (and us) are just human after all, trying to get by with the conflict that life throws us.

Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.

The Squid and the Whale plays at the Enzian Theater starting November 4, 2005.

  Advertising    Legal     Site Index  
© 2021 Green Room Orlando. Founded in 1998.