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THE SQUID AND THE WHALE - 2005

SELECT ANOTHER FLICK CHICK MOVIE REVIEW FROM THE FILM CRITICS IN BLUE
J. ThorburnV. AlexanderC. PattersonJ. CorcoranPolly Peluso
Erica Vital

ERICA HECTOR VITAL

The Squid and The Whale: A Cautionary Tale

By
Erica Hector Vital
Red Rock Review
ericavital@cox.net
ericav@theflickchicks.com

Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil

Though the film is set in 1989, and lightly brushed with 80’s nostalgia, The Squid and the Whale is a tale for modern times.  Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s story of a marriage at its end and the bitter, but necessary, growth of two boys caught in the resulting tug-of-war between an emotionally obtuse father and a mother just beginning to bloom, is delightfully more Brother’s Grimm than Mother Hubbard.

The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil, The Squid and the Whale, Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin, Molly Barton, Bo Berkman, Noah Baumbach

By the time Baumbach introduces us to Bernard and Joan Berkman, it is clear that what is over for the parents has just begun for 16 year-old Walt, an opinionated and obstinately wounded Jesse Eisenberg of Roger Dodger, and 13 year-old Frank, a heart-wrenching performance by Owen Kline, the son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates.  If there are two paths into the haunted wood of separated families, Walt has doggedly decided to follow the emotionally-dulled, pseudo-intellectual trail of breadcrumbs left by the father, while Owen plods along the mother’s path which is filled with emotional ruts of its own. 

 The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil, The Squid and the Whale, Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin, Molly Barton, Bo Berkman, Noah Baumbach

Laura Linney, as Joan Berkman, in the drab, crunchy style of New York intelligentsia complete with Birkenstocks and shapeless hemp, lends a quiet, self-possessed subversion that only Laura Linney can.  There is no question that she will survive.  Joan Berkman radiates an off-handed confidence born of necessity rather than self-righteousness.  While Bernard squandered love and talent, Joan has been writing, cultivating her boys, her chickens, as she calls the youngest boy, who still delights in his mother’s affection.  The spirit her husband took for granted—as he takes intellect and talent for granted--has been realized by Joan and turned into the totemic guide present in all good fables, that will save her, and save her boys, even if it destroys Bernard. 

Linney’s Joan is the fairy godmother at the center of The Squid and the Whale at the same time that she is the bearer of the poison apple. 

 The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil, The Squid and the Whale, Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin, Molly Barton, Bo Berkman, Noah Baumbach

Her sudden awakening, a career on the rise, a succession of lovers, precipitates the family’s break.  It is her refusal to remain under the spell of a life that no longer works that draws the contempt of her husband and, more important, the cold appraisal of her oldest boy.  Clear-eyed, long-limbed, Jesse Eisenberg is in many ways the impressionable innocent of 2002’s Roger Dodger. But his Walt is also crafty, intentionally distant, and determined to become as stingy in his creative life and in his ability to love as his ousted father.  “Dad’s the writer,” he says at the advent of his mother publishing a novel. “Dad influenced her.  She never wrote a word until he met her.” 

 The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil, The Squid and the Whale, Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin, Molly Barton, Bo Berkman, Noah Baumbach

Jeff Daniels’ Bernard Berkman has devolved from a promising novelist  to a creatively barren tightwad who thinks nothing of inviting himself on a date with his oldest son, talking the boy and his date,  Sophie Greenberg, a fresh-faced Halley Feiffer who bears a spiritual resemblance to Linney, into an inappropriate screening of the David Lynch film, Blue Velvet. 

Bernard is as miserly with his emotions as he is with his cash.  When Walt comes to him for advice about women, and about Sophie in particular, foolhardy Bernard regales him with visions of unattainable perfection, a bloodless, nearly disembodied perception of women that will keep the boy distant, suspended in a fairy tale of needs and expectations that can never be met.   While Joan makes her way out of the wilderness, Bernard’s world is narrow enough to fit within a few trite definitions.  Perhaps sensing he has reason to be jealous of the youngest son’s tennis coach, a beautifully long-haired, fit and soulful William Baldwin, he refers to the coach as “the philistine.”  When the boy asks “What is a philistine,” Bernard’s answer illustrates the narrow terms in which he views the world.  “A philistine is someone who isn’t interested in serious books or in seeing interesting films and things.” 

Such limited vision made it possible for Bernard to be sideswiped by the broader leap toward life and love his wife, though fearful, has managed to take.

 The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil, The Squid and the Whale, Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin, Molly Barton, Bo Berkman, Noah Baumbach

From the long-suffering storefront preacher dad in Because of Winn-Dixie to Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain in the award winning Civil War drama Gods and Generals, it is virtually impossible not to truly like Jeff Daniels.  He is the man next-door. Tall, blonde, too solid to be gangly, it is that hint of solidity, a willingness to suffer and forbear, that made Daniels a likeable screw-up in the farcical hit Dumb and Dumber.  So it would seem impossible not to stumble across a redeeming quality in a Daniels’ character.  But Bernard Berkman is a knave whose particular brand of villainy lies in his willingness to reduce his youngest son to the dungeon of Bernardian definition while shaping his oldest son into his own flailing image.

 The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil, The Squid and the Whale, Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin, Molly Barton, Bo Berkman, Noah Baumbach

Having produced this film with one of the young masters of family ties and unconquerable divides, Wes Anderson, Rushmore and The Royal Tannenbaums, Noah Baumbach’s directing is as leisurely, a wonderfully paced unwinding of character and scene punctuated by unexpected moments of dialogue and emotional revelation. At moments it is hard to watch Owen Kline as the youngest son who, rather than withdrawing from the break-up, takes the full brunt of the ill-wind blowing through the family.  Anna Paquin as the graduate student set on seducing both Bernard and Walt is as saucy and self-assured as any young girl has a right to be. 

 The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil, The Squid and the Whale, Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, William Baldwin, David Benger, Anna Paquin, Molly Barton, Bo Berkman, Noah Baumbach

True to the tradition of tragic tales meant to shape us, to give us an understanding of old fears and imminent pitfalls, Baumbach tests his characters, keeps us wondering how long they will remain in the gloomy wood and how, if ever, will they find a way out.  This is a film to watch more than once, a dysfunctional family drama on par with Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment.

Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil

SELECT ANOTHER FLICK CHICK MOVIE REVIEW FROM THE FILM CRITICS IN BLUE
J. ThorburnV. AlexanderC. PattersonJ. CorcoranPolly Peluso
Erica Vital

 

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