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Movie Review: The Squid and the Whale

December 11, 2005

The Squid and the Whale

Jeff Daniels
Laura Linney

Noah Baumbaugh wrote and directed this dark comedy/divorce drama that harkens back to the 80’s, not only in setting, but in feel. The film recalled Ordinary People, Kramer v Kramer, hell even My Bodyguard and A Little Romance. There’s no shame in being associated with any of those, however. I couldn’t help thinking of my childhood when I used to draw pictures of undersea creatures, often a whale who did battle with a squid, the two giants tussling forever, never really knowing who would win, nor who I wanted to win.

Two kids, sons of a literature professor (Jeff Daniels) and a writer (Laura Linney) suffer through their parents acrimonious divorce. Daniels, as Dad, is besot with a beard that makes him resemble a puffer fish, an insufferable megalomaniac, Linney’s mother is a bit more fuzzy, presented through the eyes of the film’s center, the eldest son, 16 year old Walt, as a woman concerned more with her own personal satisfaction than with keeping the family together. The film’s myopia is its weakness. For all Daniels and Linney’s Herculean attempts to flesh out the parents, one never learns what got them together, and can only assume what’s broken them apart (we’re lead to believe it was Mom’s affairs, though we never know what drove her in that direction). Great scenes and great lines can make a great film, though not in this case. Did I need to sit through this just to learn that divorce can screw with kids, forcing them to choose sides with one parent or the other? Perhaps the final scene, whale battling squid, was all we needed. Daniels is brilliant here, as are Jesse Eisenberg (Walt) and Owen Kline (as younger brother and chronic masturbator Frank).

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