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March 29, 2011 / Prof Cupcake.

SQUIDS WHALES and NO high sea drama?

Upon hearing this film title I did assume it would involve an EPIC sea battle. The type where hundreds of CGI people are thrown from their battle ship into the dark of the sea while these two massive beasts fight, unaware of the large loss of life above them. I was utterly wrong in only one way, there were no CGI battle ships, just dysfunctional parental beasts dragging their children through the grime of their messy divorce.

Based in part on the remembrance of writer slash director Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale charts the fragmentation of a family after Joan (Laura Linney) and Bernard (Jeff Daniels) decided to divorce. Stuck in the middle are Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) who are not only dealing with their own issues but there existence as artillery shells in their parents unending war of blame passing. The film follows their experience’s together and proceeds towards no clear end. Thought the loose plot is at risk of becoming overly self-indulgent it is reigned in by a short running time and a keen sense on Noah Baumbach’s part on when to infuse darker scenes with comic sentiments.

Expertly acted, there is not a scene in this film where the delivery of the lines feel overly contrived or heavy handed. Jeff Daniels is particularly memorable capturing the spirit of a faltering writer with breathtaking elegance. But it is Jesse Eisenberg who steals the show with his crushingly honest portrayal of Walt. Within him we see the complex exchange of disseminated knowledge from both his parents as he struggles to define himself independently of them.

The film quite nearly plays like 4 separate stories focusing on how each individual deals with the divorce. I think it is this approach which makes this film so memorable and enjoyable. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE take common elements from family drama films, divorcing parents, coming of age, lost romance, loss of self worth ect and interweaves these elements subtly into the fabric of each character giving them a greater sense of realism.

Ultimately the film ends much as it began, with little resolution and lots of questions, but its beauty is in that it offers us a snap shot of this families life, with unflinching exploration of that which we often enjoy keeping hidden.

 

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