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flick pick | The Squid and the Whale 2005
Directed + written by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin, William Baldwin
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  darkly comic, serious
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis It's 1980s Brooklyn and teenaged Walt and his pre-pubescent little brother Frank find themselves caught in the crossfire as their parents, Bernard and Joan, wage war against one another. Both parents are writers, though at different stages of their careers. Bernard earned some measure of literary acclaim years back, but is now struggling to find a publisher for his latest work; Joan started writing later, but is on the verge of becoming a major success. They're heading in different directions -- both in their work, and in their lives. In not-so-friendly family tennis matches and barely civil evening meals, they snipe over petty quibbles and simmer angrily in the silences in between. One evening, Bernard and Joan sit the kids down to announce that after seventeen years of marriage, they're going to divorce. In a crazy attempt to make things "fair", Bernard and Joan decide that the kids will switch houses every other night of the week, never mind that Bernard's new place is a long trek from their old house (and in a state of semi-shambles to boot). Walt and Frank can't seem to help but choose sides, with Walt hero-worshipping his coldly intellectual father and Frank clinging to his more nurturing mom. As everyone tries to figure out how to negotiate the new family dynamic, Frank and Walt find themselves learning more than they ever wanted to know about the messy lives of the two folks they've always just thought of as Mom and Dad, and doing some serious thinking about what they want for their own selves as well.

Review Back when the boy and I were planning our wedding, I remember the florist asking us at one point, "And how many sets of parents do we have?" "Just the one set on each side," we answered. To which the florist said, "Really? That's pretty unusual these days." With divorces and remarriages, new girlfriends and new boyfriends, the traditional one mom working with one dad to raise their one set of kids has apparently become a bit of a rarity. Divorce happens all the time, and legal terms like joint custody are such a part of the public lexicon that everyone knows what they mean -- or rather, thinks they do. Because as The Squid and the Whale shows, the reality of what it feels like to be a child of divorce is something that's far, far more complicated than words can really convey. Noah Baumbach's film has the look of a Wes Anderson movie (in fact, Anderson is credited as a producer, and the two co-wrote The Life Aquatic) -- visually, there's a lot that feels reminiscent of The Royal Tenenbaums, and even thematically, there's a definite overlap. Because of this superficial resemblance, I went into this flick expecting, well, a Wes Anderson film. But unlike Anderson, Baumbach doesn't play his drama for laughs. There are bits that are quite funny -- Bernard is particularly good at spouting amusing pomposities -- but what you get from The Squid and the Whale is mostly a feeling of discomfort at how real the pain is that everyone's feeling, and how bad they all are at actually expressing it, despite how rational and intellectual they pride themselves on being. These characters aren't charmingly quirky so much as weird and sad, messed-up and petty -- frankly, there's not a whole lot of fun in this dysfunctional family. Still, you can't bring yourself to hate any of them. Even when they're doing and saying awful/disturbing things -- which all four of the family members do, at one time or another -- Baumbach and his stellar cast ensure that we can kinda sorta understand why they're being so terrible. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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