The Squid and the Whale observes a family falling apart. 

An intimate, sharply observed, semi-autobiographical story about a circa-1986 Park Slope, Brooklyn, family falling apart, writer/director Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale is a sad but funny film about -- among many other things -- the process all kids go through of seeing their parents as flawed human beings instead of flawless gods.

This common coming-of-age process is made all the more complicated for brothers Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) Berkman because, as the movie opens, their parents are about to embark on a separation that seems to have been a long time coming.

Baumbach sketches this nuclear family's inherent network of rivalries and alliances in a deft opening scene of a family tennis match. The elder son Walt is paired with his overbearing novelist father Bernard (Jeff Daniels, barely recognizable under a heavy beard), who encourages the boy to exploit his mother's weak backhand, thus neatly establishing both the tension between the couple and Walt's penchant for following his father's lead. The mother, Joan (Laura Linney), is paired with the younger son Frank, who clings closer to her. When Bernard and Joan split, these rivalries and alliances deepen, with each son acting out in ways that mirror the worst traits of the parent they identify with.

Daniels' Bernie -- a college lit prof and increasingly unsuccessful novelist -- is almost monstrously unlikable, his desperate pretension, mean-spirited passive-aggression, and deep solipsism making him toxic to most people in his life, save for the still-adoring Walt and a comely, partly star-struck student (Anna Paquin, in a variation on the precocious student she played in 25th Hour). But Walt takes his lead, repeating drivel about books he's never read to impress and/or intimidate fellow students.

Linney's Joan is the more grounded parent, her nascent writing career just taking off, but she has a tendency to be a bit too direct about her sexual affairs, which leads to Frank acting out sexually at school.

Baumbach is remarkably fair to each character in this family drama, even Bernie, whose insufferable arrogance never masks his humanity. It's only in the end that we see that, in this portrait of the artist as a young man, it's been Walt's journey that the film really belongs to.

The Squid and the Whale

Opening Friday, December 9th

Ridgeway Four


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • IndieGrants

      Indie Memphis' grant program aims to empower Bluff City filmmakers.
    • The Magnificent Seven

      Denzel Washington rides to the rescue of this by-the-numbers remake.
    • The Birth Of A Nation (2016)

      Actor/director Nate Parker writes history in lightning in this rabble rousing thriller of black liberation


Tiger Blue

AAC Picks: Week 9

Intermission Impossible

Where Do All The Frankie Vallies Come From? Frankie Camp, That's Where.

Music Blog

Jack Oblivian Live at Wiseacre Brewery

Hungry Memphis

A Chubby Vegetarian Dinner Party

Fly On The Wall Blog

Really, Today Show? Graceland? In Nashville?

News Blog

Application Shows New Images of Old Dominick

Beyond the Arc

Game Notebook: Grizzlies 102, Timberwolves 98


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation