"Mom and me versus you and Dad."
The Squid and the Whale wasn't the first Baumbach film I've seen so I kind of knew what to expect. I watched Greenberg a couple of years ago and thought it was a pretty good film, so I've always wanted to watch The Squid considering it was Baumbach's breakout critical hit and has a cult following. I really enjoyed this movie and thought it opened really well with some extremely witty and funny dialogues. It had a very strong opening which helped me get involved quickly with the characters. I have to say that this film managed to maintain me interested in every character despite the fact that they are all unlikeable and hard to relate to. The performances were all really strong and I thought Jeff Daniels was especially great in his role, but I guess Baumbach should get the credit for writing such a witty and funny script about a tough subject. I found myself laughing during these scenes because I've actually met people like this and they are incredibly obnoxious. Despite having such a strong opening I thought the film fell short at the end. This could have been a masterpiece if it didn't end in such an ambiguous note where nothing was resolved. I still haven't watched Frances Ha, but so far this is my favorite Baumbach film and I can see why it received so much love from critics. This was a very personal film for Baumbach and you can sense it in his writing. The film, despite being a bit awkward, felt real and authentic and shows us divorce isn't as easy as it seems.
The film takes place during 1986 in Brooklyn, New York. Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) have been married for several years and have two children: Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline). Bernard is a writer who is now teaching literature at a university because he can't get his novel published. He's an arrogant who believes his work isn't getting published because people aren't smart enough. He considers himself an intellectual and believes he is better than everyone else. Joan on the other hand is now becoming the more prominent writer and Bernard is a little jealous about that. Their family is very dysfunctional and divorce is inevitable since Joan has had several affairs and the two have grown apart. The film focuses on how the kids deal with the separation as Walt takes sides with his father who he idolizes and seems to imitate everything he says or does, and Frank takes sides with his mother. Joan and Bernard agree to share custody of the kids and seem to work everything out, but the transition isn't as smooth as they expect and the kids begin to have abnormal behaviors when Joan begins dating Ivan (William Baldwin), and Bernard allows one of his students, Lili (Anna Paquin), to move in with him.
Despite not identifying or liking any of these characters, I thought Jeff Daniels' performance as Bernard was great. It was so funny to see this man behaving as an intellectual yet acting like a kid by being so competitive and wanting everyone to agree with him. It was even funnier seeing how Walt didn't have a voice of his own and began imitating everything his father said. He had an opinion about everything without even knowing anything about it (in literature for example, he would say how great a book was because his father said so but he hadn't even read it). I think that this was one of the themes of the film that resonated the most with me, seeing how children imitate the behavior of their parents. The film doesn't try to point the finger at only one of the parents; I think they are both to blame and are very irresponsible parents. Baumbach really captures the mood and tone of the film by making it feel real and authentic despite the weirdness and dysfunctionality of this family. The film is very short, but he manages to give these characters a lot of depth in such a short time. The Squid is a tragic and sad story, but at the same time it is just so funny and engaging. I really enjoyed this film.