The Squid and the Whale Screen 92 of 13 reviews

The Squid and the Whale

2005

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  • Snatching an instant here or a moment there from this brilliant, pulsing movie is to do it an injustice. Emotions come and go in a flash—from painful adolescent diffidence to embarrassing reversions to one-upmanship to the greater mortifications of ill-chosen words and actions that betray a conflicted heart—each one lovingly wrought and then positioned within the great whirlwind of human interaction.

  • The conventional wisdom around Noah Baumbach as a cranky misanthrope with a preemptive grudge against his fictional players—one of the hoariest ad-hominem characterizations in circulation—wasn't yet in full swing when The Squid and the Whale bruised audiences with its lucidity and rawness... The film executes its mercilessness in dart throws, with each offhand aggression piercing the cork around the bull's-eye until the board is nearly filled up and a moment of release is granted.

  • We’re trapped in an intimate relationship with these people. The never impersonal perspective is evident, too, in the disorienting rush of the editing, which is as knife’s-edgy as the abrupt dialogue (unlike in most movies about “literate” people, scene partners don’t engage in a sustained rally: they brutally swat ground strokes past each other). People, places, and moments exist in almost uncomfortably vital proximity, spatial and temporal.

  • Whereas The Royal Tenenbaums was playful and theatrical, this film is looser and more naturalistic. Baumbach's eye for detail is evident in the contrast between the lived-in, bourgeois comfort of Joan's home - all stripped wood and book-lined walls - and Bernard's sparsely furnished place, where even the posters pinned up to hide the cracks in the plaster look wrong.

  • The implied critique of progressive, bohemian parenting is devastating--wise and nuanced, with the painful hilarity of truth.

  • It hits as close to home as a filmmaker can get in telling his own family’s story in the guise of an objective film narrative, without any heavenly-father first-person narration to jolly things along. On the whole, Mr. Baumbach avoids many pitfalls in dealing with a class of people—i.e., middle-class academics—almost too easy to caricature.

  • Avoiding the trap of using them as straw men or punching bags for harbored grievances, Baumbach clearly sketches the lines connecting members of his fictional Berkman family through their disorienting, universal feelings of need, respect, attention, envy, and love. That Baumbach does so without condescension or indulgence, and with a terrific sense of humor, is nearly revelatory.

  • The film revels in the specificity of its setting, lovingly cataloguing local subway stops and long, verdant blocks, but it does so with a distinct ambivalence. In charting the effects of a divorce on the two adolescent sons of literary parents, Baumbach revisits the time, place, and events of his young adulthood in a manner that is at once sentimental and a little sneering.

  • Full disclosure: If I hadn't liked The Squid and the Whale so much, I might have begged off reviewing. For, while I have only the slightest personal acquaintance with the filmmaker, I do know his brother, his father, and particularly, his mother, former Voice movie critic Georgia Brown. From this privileged position, the movie is, of course, additionally fascinating—albeit not so much for what the filmmaker reveals about his family but how he chooses to represent them.

  • All four protagonists in Noah Baumbach’s painfully sincere and delightfully silly film are, in some form or another, similarly wounded, fractured, and lost, clumsily and miserably attempting to navigate the internal, interpersonal, and logistical schisms created by marital dissolution.

  • It has so much going for it — including intelligent performances that mesh beautifully, and a keen understanding of how seemingly small moments can rattle families — that you walk away from it feeling it should add up to more... Baumbach is an intelligent, attentive filmmaker, and one whose work we don’t get to see often enough. Here he seems to be fighting contradictory impulses. “The Squid and the Whale” has the odd distinction of coming off as both heartfelt and cautiously remote.

  • Richly (if not entirely) fulfilling the promise of Baumbach’s indelible 1995 debut, “Kicking and Screaming,” pic makes up in strong performances and wry observation what it sometimes lacks in narrative drive. Result is a perceptive (and unexpectedly moving) portrait of lives in crisis.

  • Try as he might to cut to the frayed nerves of a scene, Baumbach lets cuteness get in the way; thus, Daniels' brilliantly unsentimental portrayal of an asshole gets clogged and diffused by the filmmaker's self-satisfied ellipsis and wiseass use of songs... This is only his fourth film; if he can cut the feyness and mine the intensity, he may be able to dodge the disposal bin where Tadpole, Igby Goes Down, and all twee New York quirkiness go to rot.

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