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The Squid and the Whale (2005)

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I saw The Squid and the Whale last night as part of the Three Rivers Film Festival. Packed house (awesome!). Had mixed thoughts throughout. Right after I came out of the screening a guy handed me a piece of paper to rank how I enjoyed the film on a 1 to 5 scale for the Festival's audience prize. Strangely enough, I thought, because the film does a fantastic job of showing how patterns of snap, unconsidered judgments retard maturity and destroy relationships. So, I gave the film a 3. Now, though, in considering it and reading a few things and talking about it some, I'm thinking 4. And it's a nice companion, though very differently-measured, to Me and You.... And maybe Baumbach has more talent than Anderson in getting to a real emotional core; the way that he uses humor here in contrast to the way Wes does in, say, The Royal Tenebaums is very intriguing. I think you even see the Tenenbaum house at one point (or a look-alike), and there's certainly a similarity in character universe (and even in the way the characters lie), but the approach is so different.

Has anyone caught up with this yet?


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I'm seeing it tonight. The mainstream reviews have raised my hopes high, and I'm a big fan of Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming as well as his script for The Life Aquatic.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Performances were suberb (at least for Linney and Daniels, the kids are certainly adequate). I liked it (didn't love it), but never got around to reviewing it. I like the dynamism of the swing in life between Linney's and Daniel's characters - success/fulfillment/confidence is on the rise for her and long gone for him. Linney has the most authentic laugh I've heard on screen (for whatever that is worth).

The film that I pair it with in my mind is The Secret Life of Dentists which shows a hopeful option of working to save a family. Squid/Whale is what you get when nobody's bothered to try.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I like your comment about the way in which the couple is at such different points in the swing, Darrel. I found the portrayal of the divorce really interesting, and maybe the effect is caused by the fact that Baumbach tries hard not to give us any filter other than that of the boys' perceptions. The dynamic of blame, which is what we get drawn into so easily with these kind of relationship stories, is really frustrated here, and I think that might end up being a positive thing. It's hard to say what would be necessary to "fix" their relationship (apart from getting two new hearts), but it's clear what the consequences are of them walking around with the hearts they have.

Jeffrey, I hope you're struck by the film. I found myself initially underwhelmed by it, but as I've turned it around, read about it and talked about it I find my appreciation for it increasing.


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I was a huge fan of Kicking and Screaming (1995), partly because I was, at the time, just like the main characters: a mid-20s university grad who was still hanging around the campus with no real idea of where to go from there. I did a phone interview with Baumbach at the time (on page 8 of this PDF file) but lost track of him after that. If memory serves, he directed two films in 1997 and then didn't do a thing until he co-wrote The Life Aquatic last year and wrote-and-directed The Squid and the Whale this year (he has a thing for marine life, apparently).

I've been meaning to see this film, but junkets and hospital visits have kept me busy.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I saw it this past weekend and thought it was very well done. It vividly captures the pain of divorce on children. Both Jeff Bridges and Laura Linney are excellent, as are the actors who play their kids. The film also captures quite well the insular world of New York City academics. There is just enough humor, such as Billy Baldwin's character, to keep things from being too morose, but it's still a pretty melacholy film due to its realism. It makes an interesting counterpoint to Wes Anderson's kind of films, which mine similar emotional territory, but have a little bit more of a whismical feel to them due to their precise attention to physical details and music.

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It didn't disappoint me at all. I found it incredibly, painfully sad, and yet encouraging in that this is another solid entry in the wave of new films lamenting the damage done by parents whose selfishness leads to divorce. You're right, Crow... it fits right in with Wes Anderson's film, in everything but style.

I think the most telling statement in the film is when Walt's mother tries to explain why she separated from Walt's father, and she says, "It had absolutely nothing to do with you."

Exactly. And a good parent does not make decisions without taking the family into account. Indeed, these two monstrous parents are acting without any conscience about the damage done to their children. And the way they trivialize their kids is reflected in their insulting nicknames for the boys: "Pickle." "Chicken."

The film is also full of wonderfully telling visual moments, like the scene in which Dad gives his youngest son Frank a writing desk as a show of care, but doesn't even bother to notice that he's given him a "leftie" desk. Frank is seen later sitting at the desk, leaning awkwardly to the left, as if testing his weight, trying to learn to lean in an unnatural direction--a great picture of the awkwardness of shifting one's weight in a joint-custody situation.

Jeff Daniels has never been better--Bernard is one of those men whose so selfish and arrogant that sometimes you laugh, sometimes you recoil in horror. It's not hard to believe that this is the same writer who did The Life Aquatic. The self-absorption and insanity of the father figure are so similar.

I'm not a big Laura Linney fan--she can be so good, but usually ends up in misguided movies. This is her best work since You Can Count On Me.

I have a hunch this will hold up well with repeated viewings.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I think only Linney's character uses the pet names. And I love the way she's accepted where she is in her life and age-- I think she'll have an incredible run over the next decade in speaking for the accomplishments and disappointments of middle age. Like Bill Murray, but with range.

My favorite visual/thematic metaphor is the recurrence of the tennis motif. Tennis, more than other games, is about understanding your opponent's weaknesses and exploiting them. When that sort of approach is applied to personal relationships and family dynamics, the results are predictable.


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I've got to see this one.

Link to Sunday's "Outlook" piece in The Washington Post on the myth of the "good" divorce, although discussion of the piece merits its own thread elsewhere.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Yeah, I think you'll dig it. I had kind on settled on praising Me and You and Everyone We Know as a rare American film not made by a church group that says, in essence, divorce $@&%s kids up. Now comes this film, which says the same thing at even greater length. My informal thesis is that Hollywood films abandoned that theme right after the release of Kramer vs. Kramer because they knew it wasn't the sort of message that plays to the ticket-buying demographic, who'd rather hear messages about absent parents reconnecting with their kids, family is what you make of it, etc.

I like what you wrote, Jeffrey. I haven't read Andrew's review at length, but I think this is one clear case where "wallowing" in someone's extended selfishness and self-destructiveness pays dividends for the viewer hoping to learn something about the human condition.

I'd like to know how long Anderson and Baumbach have been friends. I wonder whether this screenplay was written before that of The Royal Tenenbaums. Apart from other similarities, both end with the flawed patriarch being ridden away in an ambulance. Again, to such different dramatic effect.


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(And yes, Russ, you're right... only Joan uses the pet names for her kids.)

I don't think her husband even knows their names, pet or given. My hunch is, he thinks of them as "Me, Jr." and "the other one."

Saw this last night. Didn't know of the Wes Anderson / Owen Wilson connection until the final credits rolled, and it certainly made all the sense in the world.

I kept thinking what a literary feel there was, and assumed it had been adapted from a literary novel. Reminded me of PERSONAL VELOCITY in that sense.

Carole found it made her very sad. I definitely recognize that it's a sad situation, and that it's sad that so many people go through such things, but for me there were only moments that really evoked sadness: something about the tone of most of the film distanced it a bit. It was observational rather than immersive, I'm not sure how else to put it. And I appreciated it for that.

Another interesting subjective thing. I pretty much completely despised the father, and thought that the film sympathised more with the mother without letting her off scott free. Carole thought the "blame" rested equally on both: she was as horrified with the wife's series of affairs as she was with the husband's arrogance. Of course I didn't approve of the affairs, but tended to see them as an outgrowth of her marriage to an absent, narcissistic man: I also saw in her a genuine caring for her boys, while I saw the husband completely self-absorbed and bullying. (I'm probably overly sympathetic toward the female character, and Carole's already demonstrated her ability to have grace for arrogant, self-absorbed males by staying married to me. So there's that.) For me, the late revelation - which I take to be central to the film's meaning, judging by the title and the film's final scene - that

the father had been pretty much absent from the older son's early childhood, and the mother had provided him with all his good parenting memories

- seemed to confirm to me that the inclination of my sympathies toward the mother would be shared by the film maker, but Carole mostly saw the squid/whale image as

embodying the parents' state of constant, mutually destructive conflict, and reflecting the son's deep aversion to their fighting. I saw it as a film about a son who heroizes his father and blames his mother, who suddenly wakes up to see that he's more or less got it backwards, and that the final scene was about him contemplating that reality: while Carole saw the final moments as an image of the boy realizing both parents were a mutually destructive disaster, and he was going to have to find his own way, apart from the appalling legacy he'd been left by his parents.

I'd be interested to know where other people leaned on this question.

I'm really starting to see this as a very interesting year in film, and that change of perception is all since the summer. Lots I still want to see, and while there aren't a lot of Personal All-Time Rave Faves so far, plenty of worthwhile, substantial, interesting flicks. SQUID, GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK, HISTORY OF VIOLENCE all within the past month or so, and all really solid, artistic films. Yum.

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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The film wasn't as dark or acutely sad an experience for me as it was for you, Jeffrey, but I'm with you in a lot that you say in your write up. This bit...

"One scene sticks with me long after seeing it: A girl stands on a school platform and sings, a capella, Mr. Mister's pop hit Kyrie Eleison. In the middle of this sad film Baumbach pauses for a child's plaintive cry for God to have mercy. In the midst of so much debauchery, a moment like this is not a trivial matter. It's the fleeting glimmer of hope in 90 minutes of darkness."

...is a particularly good insight. I mostly experienced the, I don't know, absurdity? incongruity? courage? oddness? of the girl's performance, but somehow overlooked the significance of the words. Yeah, very potent.

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I have to say, I perceived the girl singing Mr. Mister as a thrown-in moment to generate either mild laughter or uncomfortable silence, and not really any sort of nod to external grounding. I guess we can endow the scene with that meaning (though, to be honest, that song has never seemed poignant to me either before or after I knew what it meant), but I didn't think it was intended that way.


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See, I think you can walk away from the film feeling like both parents bore 51% of the blame for the marriage failing. Bernard's an intellectual boor whose dismissiveness because a defense mechanism which renders him incapable of seeing his own faults, but indications are that he's remained at least technically faithful to his wife. It's interesting how he tells the older son regretfully a time or two about romantic opportunities he passed up because he was "with" his wife. Despite his thorough insensitivity, there is one kind of betrayal guaranteed to pierce him, and that's the one his wife chooses to embrace and doesn't go to great pains to hide. Plus, she's openly hostile to his (seemingly earnest) desire to reconcile. We can ask whether he ultimately has the ingredients to reform given his present state, but he alone seems willing to try.


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Yes and no, Russ; I think he stopped being a husband to her long before she stopped being a wife. Her affair was initially emotional.

Although, it could be said that perhaps she chose Ivan because he was EXACTLY the kind of person Bernard would say was 'beneath her.'

They both share 100% of the blame.

You can say that again...

wink.gif


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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So, if so many people liked it, why the neutral 3-star rating which accompanies this thread? Is that people rating low but not posting? Shame, shame.

Edited by GreetingsEarthling

That's just how eye roll.

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See... I don't see how the rating system on this board can be very trustworthy. Anybody can vote, right? So, just because the participants on this board seem to love it, there are apparently hundreds of visitors and lurkers who don't participate in dialogue that can still vote.

Plus, if somebody disagrees with those of us who rate it at 4-stars, they can vote a 1-star to drag down the overall rating to the 2-star film they think that it is.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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This just opened in Chattanooga, TN, and I had the chance to see it last night. As someone who is going through a similar circumstance, watching it with friends who have also been through these things, I kept thinking "yep, I've heard that line" and "I've felt that". I identified strongly with several scenes and felt Baumbach effectively captured the experience of the kids.

Jeffrey, I agree with what you wrote in your review that this was "the farthest thing from a “feel-good” movie.", but a necessary work of art. Everybody needs to watch this.

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Just saw it. This is a really great movie. Though I admit it was tough to watch, with its quick 81 min run time, I still found it excruciatingly painful. I think it's a sign of the realize they manage in this film.

It's scary also to think of the people I've met who are very much like Bernard, especially in a university setting (or worse, to note any traces of onesself in Bernard). A wonderful cautionary tale that doesn't come across as preachy or contrived.

Side Note: Good reviews guys. But both JO and Josh say this is set in 70s Brooklyn, but I'm pretty sure the start of the movie says it's the 80s. And in one scene Lili is listening to The Smiths, so it's gotta be. Just thought you might want to edit your reviews.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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Yeah, I think you'll dig it.

I did!

I knew within the first two minutes I was going to love this film. It didn't disappoint. The ending felt a little abrupt, but really, what more was there to say?

Linney has shown some range before, but Daniels? I know I'm late to the party, but he was a revelation here.

I wonder why I respond so strongly to films about contemporary youthful alienation. Sometimes I'll see a film and completely identify with the younger, traumatized characters, and have no idea why I identify with them, having never experienced anything remotely like what they're going through.

Garden State struck a strong chord because of the drugging-our-kids angle, although I've never been on prescription meds for chemical imbalances or emotional disturbances.

My parents stuck together despite some periods of unhappiness, which no doubt affected me deeply -- too deeply, it seems to me, in retrospect.

I did once receive some counseling -- just one session, during a difficult period shortly after my college years -- and was amazed to find that a book recommended by the counselor described me spot-on. However, that book, the name of which escapes me (it's been more than a decade since I read it), was aimed at the children of alcoholics. The therapist knew neither of my parents was an alcoholic, but saw something in me, in my responses, that indicated some similar emotional issues, and lo and behold, she couldn't have made a better diagnosis.

I don't recall any of the book's suggested remedies for overcoming the conditions described. Did I act on those recommendations? I don't know. But I do remember being amazed that a person I'd met one time could so quickly figure out my core problems, and point me to a book that resonated with me. I'm sure it helped, but I'm not sure how it helped, other than by letting me know I wasn't alone, and that others understood what I was going through.

So, The Squid and the Whale. It feels lived in, feels real, feels exactly like what confused kids of my generation must experience because of their parents' unwise decisions. The division of joint custody -- the dad gets the kids three of the seven days each week, but makes up for it by taking them every other Thursday, or something like that -- says it all. Ridiculous. And the kids recognize the absurdity, while their parents pat themselves on their backs for achieving compromise.

I always wondered how, when marital unfaithfulness factored into a divorce -- and it usually does, I would guess -- how the kids found out, and came to terms with it. Would they find out from friends? From siblings? Do the parents fess up? Is that appropriate? If so, how old should the kids be before they know? The film offers a couple of different scenarios, and they're as awkward and uncomfortable as I'd imagine they must be in real life.

The film is painful and funny. Extremely painful and funny, at the same time. That's difficult to pull off, and it makes it a difficult film to enjoy. But enjoy it I did.

The DVD includes a film-festival Q&A between Baumback and Phillip Lopate. I'd like to know more about both men, but the first 20 minutes of the Q&A weren't too illuminating. I turned it off.

Gosh, I just read back over this post. It's all over the map. Sorry for the unorganized mess. Maybe someone can make some sense of it.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I enjoyed reading that, Christian. When I was putting together my list of favorite films of 2005, I remember thinking of The Squid and the Whale and Me and You and Everyone We Know as a pair. I ended up putting July's film on my list, but Squid is the one I pick up every time I walk into a DVD store. I'm eager to see it again. It seems to grow bigger and more impressive the longer I live with it.

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This film made me feel like I was being subjected to the bamboo torture. Ouch! The actors were excellent, especially the older son. I hope his career blossoms -he's very good. However, it was difficult to watch. I wanted to throw darts at the Jeff Daniel's character. I've seen Linney do better work.

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I loved this film. On a craft/storytelling level, I admired how Baumbach was so restrained. There really wasn't one unnecessary moment, in my opinion. It gave me a lot to think about when writing my own stuff - how much more powerful something can become when you have the vision and discipline to cut everything but the real story away.

But, oh! Those parents! Jeff Daniels' character was so detached from his humanity! Yet, his older son still so desperate to emulate him! As heartbreaking as it all was, I think NB managed to make the story hopeful, if only because the scales are dropped from older sons eyes. (Though I kinda worry about about #2 son...ack.)

I don't think her husband even knows their names, pet or given. My hunch is, he thinks of them as "Me, Jr." and "the other one."

Hah! Exactly.

(Are "Hah! Exactly." posts allowed?)


Sara Zarr

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sarazarr.com

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