Inspired by writer/ director Noah Baumbach’s childhood experiences, The Squid and the Whale follows the story of two brothers living in Brooklyn who are caught in the middle of, and deeply affected by, the divorce of their erudite parents, Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan Berkman (Laura Linney). Older sibling Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) sides with dad and acts out at school, while younger brother Frank (Owen Kline) quietly backs up mom. The household tension rises further when Joan’s writing career takes off and surpasses the failed ambitions of her professor ex-husband.
Divorce is one of the most painful experiences a child can go through. Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale isn’t just a compelling examination of divorce but also an incisive and intimate portrayal of its effects on a family. The film is at times, visceral to watch and is both moving and hard-hitting in equal amounts. It evokes genuine pathos through the writing, the soundtrack and it’s morally conflicted characters. I love the fact that Baumbach never overdose anything in this film, the majority of tension and intensity is built simply through the character’s facial expressions and mannerisms and the screenplay is both well-crafted and tight. The characters are very well-written and realistic people brought to life by captivating central performances from: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Paquin and Owen Kline. Jeff Daniels, in particular absolutely steals the show as Bernard Berkman. His performance was by far my favorite thing about the movie and Daniels absolutely nails the hypocritical, egotistical and pretentious nature of Berkman’s character.
The Squid and the Whale is a poignant drama repackaged as a dark comedy, it’s a concise and brutally honest portrait of the effects of divorce and how deeply it can affect a family. Noah Baumbach’s brilliant and effective screenplay is complimented by marvelous performances from its ensemble cast, particularly a career-best turn from Jeff Daniels. The Squid and the Whale is a small film that packs a big punch, it’s a film that impacted me emotionally and had me on this psychological roller-coaster throughout it’s run-time. It is recommended to anyone who enjoys absorbing dramas and intriguing social commentaries.