Smart Observation Of A Drowning Family

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is one of the most acclaimed movies of the year, but hasn'’t been able to afford much of a promotional push. It has fallen outside the radar while other indie films like CAPOTE and GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK manage to hang in there.

My site may be a tiny megaphone, but I hope anyone who reads this hears my shout that THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is one of the very best movies of the year. This dissection of a family ripped apart when the parents decide to separate, may not have high production values or glossy cinematography, but it is as well written and acted as movies get.
While the subject may sound like a downer, filmmaker Noah Baumbach doesn'’t wallow in the depression. His approach is more of morbid fascination, like a crime scene in a suspense thriller. The family doesn't live in misery. The situation wakes them up, and stirs up a lot of repressed anger and confusion. The film is very exciting and the observations are for the most part, painfully accurate.

I say for the most part because there is one plot point that kind of steps over the line. It involves the youngest son who has just discovered masturbation. He rebels against the family in a way that'’s believable when you step back from it, but on screen it plays a little too uncomfortable and gross, and the kid seems too young for his actions. (I'd like to add that this plot point is in not indicativeitive of the film's general approach and tone, which makes the moments all the more startling.)
The movie uses the song "Hey You" by Pink Floyd as a running commentary. There's been debate about the fact that the grown ups (and some kids) in the movie do not recognize the classic song. The film takes place right as the albumn first came out, so I'm unsure how quickly it became known by that generation. As for the adults, I think the fact that they don't recognize the tune speaks about the disconnect between generations. Either way, the song is a perfect compliment to the actions and as it goes from a quiet acoustic version to the Pink Floyd original, the film's emotional power swells with it.
Jeff Daniels has always been one of our most undervalued actors. Still known mostly for matching Jim Carrey's lunacy in DUMB & DUMBER, Daniels specializes in playing emotionally true, ordinary guys. (My favorite moment is the final look he gives in SPEED. It's the kind of moment you never get in an action film and his face speaks volumes.) Here, he plays a pompus, arrogant writer still living in the brief glory that has long since passed. The film stays in a fairly narrow time frame, but through Daniels' you get the entire history of a man who was once great, and wants to be seen that way again even at the expense of his own children.
He's matched perfectly, in a very brave performance, by Laura Linney. On the surface, Linney's character seems like the demon who drove the family apart through adultry and booze. Once again without clearly saying so -- did I mention how good the script is -- Linney gets across a woman doing anything to break free of her husband's emotional grasp. And I may be wrong, but it looked like Linney did the role with no makeup. Every blemish is out there, and I applaud her bravery.
But, even though they are pushing Daniels for Best Actor, the stars of the film are the two kids, Jessie Eisenberg and Owen Klien. The kids are the ones ripped apart by the seperation, forced to take sides and often pitted by one parent against another. Their rebellion manifests as immoral and downright jerky behavior that covers a painful cry for help. In fact, nobody in this film comes off as all that likable, except they're all so believable and emotionally true that I was dissappointed when the credits came up after a scant 80 minutes. I wanted to spend more time with these people.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough, and you will definitely be seeing it in my Top 10. Right now I keep that this may be a better script than CRASH. It's certainly a better film than CAPOTE.


Blogger Jimmy said...

I agree with you 10000% - The Squid and The Whale is probably one of the best movies ever made!

5:43 PM  

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