• James Rutherford

'The Squid and the Whale': A Uniquely Incisive, Wryly Comic Tale of Domestic Discord


Movie poster for the film The Squid and the Whale starring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney and Jesse Eisenberg

“The Squid and the Whale” (2005) is a uniquely reflective and amusing comedy-drama set in 1980’s Brooklyn and starring Jeff Daniels as Bernard Berkman, an imperious failed novelist who watches with disdain as his wife Joan (Laura Linney) discovers newfound acclaim for her own writing. Agreeing to separate due to entirely irreconcilable differences, the couple is forced to carefully break the news to their impressionable young sons Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline).


Disillusioned by this dark turn, Walt and Frank are forced into a joint custody arrangement that finds them trekking to a fro, from their Park Slope townhouse to their father’s far less appealing new home “across the park”. Processing their parents’ splintered marriage in varied manner, Walt blames his mother directly for their regrettable turn of fate, while Frank wholeheartedly sides with her. They both display increasingly erratic behavior as they navigate the delicate emotional burden of divorce and parental discord.


Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”, “Marriage Story”), “The Squid and the Whale” is a piercing tale of familial disharmony, given wry comic energy and astute introspection thanks to Baumbach’s highly attentive brand of storytelling. Daniels delivers a dauntless performance as the utterly pompous Bernard, bringing wonderful comic timing to a role rife with disdainful arrogance and droll one-liners. A darkly comic gem, it’s a resounding Aughts-era highlight and one of the finer arthouse films of the century so far.

 

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