movies, music and everything else

This blog is about pretty much what the title implies... movies, music and everything else.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Squid and the Whale

So LIFE AQUATIC did something when it came out last year besides disappoint me… It turned Noah Baumbach back into a critical favorite. Since KICKING AND SCREAMING in 1995, Baumbach has not even been a joke in the film world. No one has even noticed that he was gone. Well, he is back.

The film is THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and it made a big splash (yes… bad pun intended) last January when it won best director and screenplay at the Sundance film festival. Since then, it has opened to overwhelming critical acclaim. This is a story of a Brooklyn family in the early 80’s that struggles through a divorce. While there is a good deal of this movie that is good, you can read other reviews that will focus on that. I am here to tell you exactly why I don’t think this movie is great…

The movie focuses on the two kids in the movie, Frank (Owen Kline) and his older brother Walt (Jesse Eisenberg). Each one deals with the divorce in their own way. The younger one seems more drawn to their mother, but lashes out in bizarre sexual ways. There is no more safe place for him and he obviously does not know how to deal with puberty and where to deal with it. While I won’t go into detail, the movie certainly does when it comes to over the top sexual confusion of a 12 year old boy. The other vice that Frank uses to deal with his problems is alcohol. This twelve year old becomes an alcoholic. As presented, there is nothing wrong with that. Baumbach uses this as a cheap joke and really doesn’t seem to find a problem with the fact that a 12 year old is drinking an obscene amount of beer and then hard liquor. AS far as the performance goes, Owen Klein (the son of actor Kevin Kline) is fine. My problems with the character came in the writing. I found Frank to be annoying and hard to be around. I thought that his journey was unrealistic and contrived for comic effect.

Jesse Eisenberg is best know in the art house circles as the kid from RODGER DOGER… In the main stream, he would be better known as the older brother of the cute little Pepsi girl. Jesse is really good in the film as Walt. Walt idolizes his writer father and sides with him during the divorce. This even goes to the point where he calls his mother a whore and doesn’t want to see her again. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is Walt’s story and for the most part is handled very well. Walt does some stupid things during this movie and he doesn’t always act very well, but divorce is really hard and it is usually more difficult for the kids than it is for the adults. This is a movie about a journey that Walt takes in order to become his own person. Does he really want to be like his father? Is his mother really a whore? Who is he as a person? This is a tough character and Eisenberg delivers the best performance in the film. Throughout the film I believed what he was going through and I cared for him. There is a subplot involving Walt taking credit for writing a Pink Floyd song in order to impress everyone (especially his parents). This is a ridiculous plot and with a little more thought, Baumbach could have gotten across the same point using a more creative method.

The parents in the film are Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney). Quite frankly, they are terrible parents and have no right having children in the first place. Bernard is a pretentious writer that hasn’t had a book published in a long while. He is a “free thinker” (roll my eyes) and teaches writing to college students who idolize him. While he really does love his wife, he is just an ass and has absolutely no clue how to show her. Joan is a woman that was trapped in a marriage too long and instead of getting out of it or trying to make it work, she just cheats on her husband. Neither one of them has any idea how to raise a child, and it shows. All that they do is talk shit about each other to the children (a common occurrence in divorce) and try and move on in their “single life”. Their relationship is realistic and the performances are both good, but I found both characters so unlikable I just felt sorry for their kids.

I could tell that this was a very personal story for Baumbach. I think that was part of the problem for him. It seemed like he added ridiculous events and over reactions to undercut the drama so that he didn’t have to deal with it directly. The family drama is handled well in the film for the most part and I liked about 80% of this movie. My problem was that there were just too many things that he let get in the way of the story. These things all seemed like relatively easy fixes. What he got right was the difficult part. That is what frustrated me the most.

If Baumbach could have really focused on the story that he was trying to tell and not get distracted or add ludicrous moments, this could have been a really effective and powerful film… but he did not and what we are left with are some good parts in a disappointing whole.


Blogger Cutshaw said...

I think this is your finest review to date. You're really coming along as a critical journalist.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

god, this is painful to me but I can't recall the exact quote that Walt responded to the therapist. He said something along the lines of "I felt like I could have written it. THe fact that it was already written was only a ..."

or something like that. I don't know if you could help me out and telling me that quote if you remember it.

anyhow, I agree with your review. I too was disappointed.

6:38 PM  

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