Friday, October 28, 2005

The Squid & The Whale - Movie Review

The Squid & The Whale - 2005

Relax people; it isn’t a biopic about Rosie McDonnell and her lover. Although, it is set in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In 1986 to be precise. Why? We have no idea. There are however, some clever attempts at disguising the contemporary neighborhood in order to avoid any overages in their budget – a budget that we can only assume was $30.00, and clearly they spent $25.00 of that on lunch. Not on the script. No, this little handmade flick is the brainchild of one Noah Baumbach, whose previous work includes “Kicking and Screaming”, which we felt like doing at many points throughout the flick. Baumbach, for those in the know, is the scion of former Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown and novelist / critic Jonathan Baumbach. He is also married to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. We wish he had filmed Thanksgiving dinner with the family, in lieu of making us sit thru this bargain basement “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” What we’re left with is more like “Who’s Afraid of Jodi Picoult?”

Now, we have nothing against “Independent Films” . . . well, okay we do. But why? You ask. Well we’ll tell you. If we had to add up the hours we have wasted withering away in darkened movie houses being subjected to some wannabe auteur’s visualization of his middle class upbringing, we’d barely have time to wash out our Slenderalls®. “The Squid & The Whale” tells the mundane tale of two boys who are facing their parents breakup. Take a number, kids. We’ve all been there. And we’ve got one or two tales that would curl your short hairs.

The boys are played respectively by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline, and the parents are interpreted by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney. Those casting choices should clearly alert you that we are not talking major motion picture here. Now, before you get your panties all bunched up, we have nothing against Jeff Daniels. Over the years, we have enjoyed his turns in everything from “Terms of Endearment”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, “Pleasantville” to the recent “Good Night, and Good Luck.” And to be fair, here he is given the choice role of the group. He portrays a onetime critically acclaimed author, who over the years has seen his fortune spiral down, and is now coasting on the remnants of his brief fame teaching writing classes to oversexed students. One student in question is played by Anna Paquin, who you will no doubt remember as Rogue in the X-Men” movie franchise. Okay, she also won an Oscar at the ripe old age of 12 for her Supporting turn in Jane Campion’sThe Piano.” We actually like little Miss Paquin, but we are growing a tad weary of her Lolita like turns that she is chalking up quickly.

But, back to the leads. Jeff Daniels is by far the stand out playing the embittered writer who cannot imagine why everybody around him fails to realize his own genius. With the exception of his eldest son, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who is the brother of that annoying little twat from the Pepsi® commercials of the 90’s, Hallie Kate Eisenberg. But we digress. Jesse’s character idolizes his father and has grown to detest his mother. And since she is played by Laura Linney, we can’t blame him. Okay, we enjoyed her prickly Oscar nominated performance in “You Can Count On Me”, but we dumped her faster than a bad oyster after her Lady Macbeth rant in “Mystic River”. [It’s gonna take a whopper of a performance to bring us back in to the fold, Laura, so start reading some better scripts, bitch.]

The youngest son is fairly nondescript, except to say that he resembles Michelle Shocked (enough with the lesbian references!) – and since he is the real life offspring of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, that seems just about right. So, junior here is the “sensitive one”, and he seems to be hit the hardest by his parents break up. So how does he act out? He enjoys jacking off in public spaces and then rubbing his mini spooge on library books, locker doors, handrails, yoga mats, oscillating fans, spice racks, grave sites, you get the picture. He also likes pounding back the beers and whisky when his parents aren’t watching. And they aren’t watching at all. Daddy is trying his best to slip Anna Paquin the Squid, meanwhile, the Whale - Laura Linney has apparently been busy fucking any available man in the neighborhood. Which is quite a feat, considering the rugmunching heavy milieu. So, the producers decided to settle and cast William Baldwin as her latest paramour, who in a Dickensian twist of fate is also . . . drumroll . . .the boys’ tennis coach!!!! NO!!! Wow, we did not see that one coming when he was introduced early on . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And when we say William Baldwin, yes, we mean of the Baldwin clan. Specifically the least talented Baldwin brother, although admittedly it’s a close call between this one and Stephen the Buswreck. Yup, the star of “Sliver” and “Backdraft is cast in the role of a former tennis pro, siderailed by a leg injury. Maybe in William’s next film, he can be siderailed by a decapitation. It could only improve his acting skills.

This flick has been catching a lot of attention as of late, and we have to ask why? Yes, Daniels and Linney are able bodied actors, and the kids are used to good advantage. Perhaps our fellow critics are starved for something that resembles drama. Well, they are foolish. They would be better off going to repeat viewings of Capote and A History of Violence”, then spending their time on this. We were very disappointed with “The Squid & The Whale.” We had read some glowing reviews and were all set to see a modern dissection of a failed marriage between literary types. What we got instead was a glorified “ABC After School Special”, that attempted to bring so much meaning to such an overworked subject. So, if you’re looking for the answer to the age old question: “Who’s Afraid of Jodi Picoult?” We all are, George, we all are.

A stylistic note to the director: By now, we have grown completely inured to the brain tilting nausea that can be induced by a hand held camera. Most directors use it sparingly, as it does nothing but call attention to the direction, and in this case that is not a good thing. And no, your petit homage to Jean-Luc Godard’sÀ Bout de Souffle”, didn’t earn you any bonus points. Back to film school with you, you tard.

Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach

Jeff Daniels as Bernard Berkman
Laura Linney as Joan Berkman
Jesse Eisenberg as Walt Berkman
Owen Kline as Frank Berkman
Anna Paquin as Lili
William Baldwin as Ivan

Cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman
Costume Design by Amy Westcott
Film Editing by Tim Streeto
Production Design by Anne Ross
Art Direction by Jennifer Dehghan
Original Music by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips