The Squid and the Whale Review
The Squid and the Whale is a 2005 indie dramedy directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Jeff Daniels and Jesse Eisenberg. It is usually cited as one of the best films of its year and while I disagree, it is still quite a good drama film.
It follows a divorce of a 1980s family and how it impacts the children and how each kid picks a side. Now, the subject matter is very familiar and in spite of that, it is still very dramatic, very involving and at times even powerful all due to Baumbach’s directing skill, great acting as well as a fine script. I like how it explores all of the characters and how it ends with a really moving conclusion. And the metaphory at display here is a great touch. It is very smart and has a plot that is both relevant and dramatic. There is however one big problem here that hurts it a lot. The emphasis on sex is highly unnecessary with at times even a disgusting outcome. And that is all due to the director’s bad choices and he usually has those crazy sex or drug scenes in his movies which is why I am not a big fan of his, but more on that later.
The characters are the standouts. All four of the family members are absolutely magnificent and so well developed due to amazing character development that is essential for this kind of film. Bernard is the highlight in my opinion. His snobbish nature is so greatly depicted and he is therefore such a realistic and relevant character. Joan is also excellent with her divorce as well as cheating issues and Frank is stupendous for his young age. Walt is excellent as he is also realistic and the most emphasis is put on him with great, dramatic, meaningful results. All of the characters here are absolutely horrendous and highly unlikable and although that was a bit of a problem, it is necessary for its realism.
The acting is just superb with each and every performance being very good. Laura Linney is wonderful and Jeff Daniels is superb with his fair share of emotional moments. But it is Jesse Eisenberg who surprised me the most with his performance. He was natural, grounded and professional here and this is undoubtedly his finest performance. I was never a fan of his and until now I thought he was a mediocre actor, but he proved me otherwise here which is also a shame as he was never better afterwards.
The cinematography is well done and the movie is extremely well paced with its short running time being incredibly rewarding. The movie is also very smart and also highly emotional at times. And always so realistic and relevant. The dialogue is wonderful with the script being very sophisticated as well.
But it is the directing that is troublesome. It is very good at times, even magnificent, but I strongly dislike Noah Baumbach’s tendency to put sexual plotlines in it and some moments are gross here. That is the major problem the movie never overcame. But it is still the best film from the director I’ve seen so far and much better than the uneven efforts that are ‘Frances Ha’ and ‘While We’re Young‘. But it is still inferior to ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ that paved the way for it much earlier.