May 12, 2013

The Squid and the Whale

Noah Baumbach, 2005

          An autobiographical story, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank Berkman (Owen Kline) are pulled into the middle of their parents divorce. Unfortunately this means disrupting everything in their life that they've become accustomed to, while also trying to cope with the stresses of growing up in New York City.
          The film is fueled by remarkable acting. Jeff Daniels, who plays Bernard Berkman (the Father), brilliantly pulls off the self-absorbed, pedantic & frugal father who is more focused on his own id-impulses than the well-being of his children. Daniel's role was originally intended to be for Bill Murray who decided to pass and take a break after filming Broken Flowers. I am never happy to see Bill Murray turn down a role, but an exception is warranted here. Bernard is conflicted. He needs to feel like the smartest guy in the room. His self-perceived intellect puts him on his own desert island in his mind, and while some may visit temporarily - nobody is perfectly fit to live there but himself. A trait of a true egomaniac. Laura Linney plays Joan (the wife) who is making up for lost time as a divorcee after being stuck in an unhappy marriage with the man she hadn't loved in years. She wrongfully kept an affair secret for years and had to confront the disdain and disappointment of her own son after it was revealed. Jesse Eisenberg gives the best performance I've seen him in, The Social Network included. He seems to fit into this niche where he can effectively play the awkward and introspective guy who can turn agitated and abrasive on a dime. Interestingly enough his characters always end up being similar but he somehow changes the flavor just enough. Credit is also due to Owen Kline in his role as the younger brother. Demonstrating odd behavior at the dawn of puberty, he ultimately comes off as vulnerable and confused. Most of his odd behavior could easily be dismissed as a call for help, but its more than that. Even with his undeveloped emotions there is a noticeable sense of anger. He looks at himself in the mirror and is disappointed to see the similarities between himself and his parents.
          There's such a blend of constantly surging emotional elements that you just sit back and observe. There's plenty of drama but a few occasional laughs provide some levity. I would imagine that this film will hit especially harder for people who had to unfortunately endure their own parents divorcing when they were young.

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