Posted at 8:31 PM on November 20, 2005
by Euan Kerr
I have to admit the poster for "The Squid and the Whale" dissuaded me from going to see the film. It features two adults and two boys sitting across from each other clearly having a tense discussion about their future together. I really wasn't in the mood for a dysfunctional family movie, and so I gave it a swerve.
Roll on a couple of weeks and the building buzz about the movie among my colleagues, and the fact that my beloved wanted to see it, carried me to the movie palace and an appointment with the Berkman family.
Director and screenwriter Noah Baumbach based his film on his own experiences growing up in a splintered family, and he has created a powerful portrait of the conflicts tearing at children during and after a divorce.
Jeff Daniels plays Bernard Berkman, a once mildly successful author now struggling to get anything published, with an icy pomposity which is breathtaking to watch. He teaches writing in a New York City college, where his students also get a minor in how great he is.
We have all come across people like Bernard who are initially gracious in allowing newcomers to worship their talent, and then quick to blame anything and everyone when asked to explain why the most recent work has been lacking. He applies this technique to his sons who initially accept his home-made self-aggrandizing legend. His wife Joan (Laura Linnhe) has seen behind the curtain however and is now riding the success of her own writing career.
As they split and then begin to compete for the attentions and the love of their sons Walt and Frank, (played beautifully by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) the battle gets dirtier and dirtier. Some of the most horrifying scenes are when the words of the parents come out the mouths of the sons as they try to navigate through the world with a couple of high-brow low-lifes as role models.
This is the best work Jeff Daniels has done in years, and possibly ever. And I'm trying to learn not to base my movie decisions on posters.