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The Squid and the Whale (Special Edition) (Bilingual)

Owen Kline , Jeff Daniels , Noah Baumbach    DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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The Squid and the Whale follows the divorce of Joan (Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me) and Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels, The Purple Rose of Cairo) as it wreaks havoc on the emotional lives of their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg, Roger Dodger) and Frank (Owen Kline, The Anniversary Party). Though there's no plot in the usual sense, the movie progresses with growing emotional force from the separation into the bitter fighting between Joan and Bernard and the hapless, floundering behavior of Walt and Frank, who act out through plagiarism, sexual acts, and drinking. Some viewers may find the ending too diffuse; others will appreciate that writer/director Noah Baumbach (Mr. Jealousy) doesn't wrap up the messiness of life in a false cinematic package. Either way, viewers will appreciate how the specificity of the personalities makes The Squid and the Whale so compelling, as Baumbach has drawn the characters with such detail, both engaging and off-putting, that they leap off the screen. Naturally, he's greatly helped by the cast: Linney, Eisenberg, Kline, and especially Daniels bite into these often unsympathetic portraits and give fearlessly honest performances, interlocked in both painful and funny ways--rarely have family dynamics been captured so vividly. If there was an ensemble Oscar, this cast would deserve it. --Bret Fetzer

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning portrait of a family in crisis Nov. 19 2011
By K. Gordon TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
Brilliant portrait of the slow disintegration of an upper middle-class New York City
family in the 1980s, as the parents divorce, and their two sons are caught in the
middle, being slowly pulled down by the nightmare of their family decaying.

Great performances all around. The most surprising is Jeff Daniels playing brilliantly
against type as a boorish intellectual bully, but Laura Linney, Jessie Eisenberg and even
young Owen Kline all create heart-wrenching, complex, unforgettable characters.

The film is very well, if simply, shot, given it's tiny budget.

This is a story where no one comes out as all hero or all villain, and there's a very, very
rare ring of truth to the tremendous complexities of family relationships.

Noah Baumbach has created one of the most haunting, disturbing portraits of the
American family in recent years.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning portrait of a family in crisis Nov. 19 2011
By K. Gordon TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
Brilliant portrait of the slow disintegration of an upper middle-class New York City
family in the 1980s, as the parents divorce, and their two sons are caught in the
middle, being slowly pulled down by the nightmare of their family decaying.

Great performances all around. The most surprising is Jeff Daniels playing brilliantly
against type as a boorish intellectual bully, but Laura Linney, Jessie Eisenberg and even
young Owen Kline all create heart-wrenching, complex, unforgettable characters.

The film is very well, if simply, shot, given it's tiny budget.

This is a story where no one comes out as all hero or all villain, and there's a very, very
rare ring of truth to the tremendous complexities of family relationships.

Noah Baumbach has created one of the most haunting, disturbing portraits of a
family in recent years.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning portrait of a family in crisis Nov. 19 2011
By K. Gordon TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
Brilliant portrait of the slow disintegration of an upper middle-class New York City
family in the 1980s, as the parents divorce, and their two sons are caught in the
middle, being slowly pulled down by the nightmare of their family decaying.

Great performances all around. The most surprising is Jeff Daniels playing brilliantly
against type as a boorish intellectual bully, but Laura Linney, Jessie Eisenberg and even
young Owen Kline all create heart-wrenching, complex, unforgettable characters.

The film is very well, if simply, shot, given it's tiny budget.

This is a story where no one comes out as all hero or all villain, and there's a very, very
rare ring of truth to the tremendous complexities of family relationships.

Noah Baumbach has created one of the most haunting, disturbing portraits of a
family in recent years.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  187 reviews
98 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marital collapse and sexual dysfunction Nov. 13 2005
By LGwriter - Published on Amazon.com
One of the commercial reviews for this film said that it was the performance of his career for Jeff Daniels and I would have to agree. As Bernard Berkman, a formerly successful and renowned writer--but now having serious trouble with his career--Daniels nails it perfectly. He's arrogant, pompous--a real prig. He blames everyone (mostly his wife) for the collapse of his marriage but himself. His older son, Walt, played in an astonishingly good performance by Jesse Eisenberg, at first sides with his dad, then realizes how callous his father really is.

At the same time, his mother--Laura Linney in another great performance (here's an actress who can do no wrong; there isn't one film she's in where she turns in a bad performance)--is not only besting her husband in the literary game (she receives a notice from a major publisher of their forthcoming publication of her first novel), but also has her husband reveal her former four-year affair with the father of one of Walt's classmates and is currently taking up with Ivan, the smug, smarmy but nevertheless relatively good-hearted (and younger) tennis instructor played by William Baldwin, Alec's brother.

So neither parent is perfect. Not by a long shot. What'a a teenager to do? Not only Walt, but Frank, Walt's younger brother, is also dramatically impacted by this rancorous marital discord, in bizarre ways that should be seen to be believed. Both boys act out their enormous frustration, rage, and general malaise in ways that relate directly to sexual/relationship dysfunction, mirroring their parents' problems.

At the same time there is a large dollop of dark humor here, revealing the smarts and humor of the writer-director, Noah Baumbach (the co-writer of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson's film; Anderson co-produced The Squid and the Whale). The ending is a fitting tribute to the title of the film which refers, perhaps, to the couple themselves...or maybe to something else?

This is an intelligently written, terrifically acted film with not one bad line or one bad performance. One of the best American films of the year so far. Highly recommended.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Parents who are clueless intellectuals May 6 2006
By Lleu Christopher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
The Squid and the Whale, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, is an unusually realistic, well-acted and honest film about a dysfunctional Brooklyn family in the 1980s. The film is alternately comical and serious, yet unlike most movies of this genre, it neither sentimentalizes nor demonizes any of its characters, no matter how absurd or even despicable their behavior may be. One interesting quality about this partly autobiographical film is the convincing way it portrays the values and lifestyles of a particular type of intellectual middle class family. What will disturb and even shock some viewers is the casual way these quasi-bohemian folks raise --or barely raise-- their children. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney both give superb performances as Bernard and Joan, parents who in many ways seem more like older siblings to their children. There is an almost total absence of the usual parenting concerns --these kids curse, consume alcohol and explore their sexuality with no lectures or moral condemnation from their parents. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, these are people who pride themselves on their sophistication and aesthetic approach to life, so they consider themselves above bourgeois morality. Secondly, they are simply too distracted with their petty conflicts (mainly with each other) to notice much of what their children are up to, aside from how it directly impacts them. The children, Walt and Frank (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline, who also give great performances) are somewhat more disturbed than average adolescents. The movie begins with the family playing a doubles tennis game, with Bernard and Walt playing against Joan and Frank. This mirrors the loyalties that develop as the parents separate and try to work the kinks out of an awkward joint custody arrangement.

From reading some reviews of the film, it is obvious that some people would have preferred a more moralistic tone, one that makes it clear that these parents are negligent, even evil. Yet this would have undercut one of the films' strengths, which is to portray this subculture without heavy-handed judgments. Joan and Bernard, along with their lifestyle are hardly romanticized and their flaws as parents are obvious enough. Bernard is a pompous intellectual who masks his insecurity about his fledgling writing career with an arrogant persona. For example, he calls Kafka "one of my predecessors." His wife, meanwhile , has been carrying on an affair for four years and wastes no time in dating new men right after the separation. Following this, Bernard begins dating one of his students. Both are largely oblivious to their children's behavior problems at school. There is a dark hilarity to the situation, helped along by Joan and Bernard's obtuseness. Despite their idiosyncrasies and flaws, these are not really terrible parents. While they are certainly self-centered, they are not cruel or even indifferent towards their children. Sadly, many conventional families are just as dysfunctional, if in a different manner. This family, with all its misery, does instill a certain regard for intellectual and artistic matters that is all too lacking in much of society, though this obviously comes at a price. In the balance, Bernard and Joan are actually average parents whose faults manifest in unconventional ways that reflect their lifestyle. Since the film is based on the director's actual childhood, we can safely assume that he didn't grow up to be a complete basket case. I think this is what really disturbs some people - that the sky does not fall when conventional mores are not strictly followed. Or, closer to the truth, when sufficient lip service isn't paid to these mores which, after all, many people fail to live up to. Baumbach may have survived and even prospered, but he did not come away from his childhood unscathed. His real achievement here is that he is able to scour the parents, without having to rely on sanctimonious moralizing and still allow their basic humanity and positive qualities to surface. One of the best films about family life that has come along in years.
50 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! Nov. 14 2005
By allismile0 - Published on Amazon.com
The Squid and the Whale is one of the more poetic and well conceived movies I have seen in a while. The brilliant intertwining of the different character's stories is well done and gives an overall "realistic" atmosphere that seems so hard to achieve in film (including documentaries). The fluid transitions of humor, jealousy, fantasy, forgiveness, and growth flesh out the story as a truly classic tragic comedy.

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney both do an amazing job of bringing out all the irony and contradictions of their characters. Egocentric to the point of ridiculousness and desperately needing approval; they both push and pull at each-other and their children creating a very powerful ebb and flow of humor, hope and failure. Because of this breakdown the children reflect, deny, and attempt to adjust to their parents anguish sometimes with painful results.

The soundtrack is quirky and always fits in nicely with the story. There's a good mix of well know musicians like Lou Reed and Pink Floyd with top notch but relatively unknown musicians like Pentangle's Bert Jansch or The Feelies. I like that the movie takes place in the early 80's but the filmmaker didn't go with obvious choices or with music just from that time.

What really shines the most in this movie is the writing. There are so many well expressed dimensions about the complications of relationships, and so many hidden gems of humor and insight that it provokes thoughtfulness and laughter (sometimes at the same time). Brilliant.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The cost of divorce March 24 2006
By Wayne Klein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Completely overlooked at the Oscars, "The Squid and the Whale" features two of the strongest performances of 2005 from Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney and a powerful script. How this gem of a drama got overlooked (and why Daniels, Linney and Baumbach weren't nominated for awards is beyond me). Joan (Laura Linney) and Bernard (Jeff Daniels) are in the middle of a nasty divorce that's pulling apart the lives of their two sons Walt (Jesse) and Frank (Owen Kline). Bernard is a self important "writer" whose career and marriage have gone astray. He blames everyone but himself and when his wife's writing career takes off it complicates things even further making the bitterness a canyon vs. a river between them. It's clear that we have a dynsfunctional family here--one of the kids masturbates and wipes the result on items in the house as a form of revenge. Clearly this film isn't for everyone and will revolt some people. There aren't any pivotal plot points that drive the story-it's more a series of events, much like life, strung together with the emotional turmoil of the story driving the story forward. It's a riveting film but may not be for everyone.

A sharp extremely good transfer is a major highlight for this film. Colors are muted but accurate and keep in mind this isn't supposed to be an eye popping film like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". The 5.1 sound has the quality one would expect from a new movie but keep in mind that the audio is designed for a drama not a big action film. Atmospheric effects are nicely placed around the speakers.

Noah Baumbach provides an intelligent observant commentary track full of trivia about the shooting of the movie and the performances in the film. The behind-the-scenes featurette is pretty good as well with some thoughtful comments from the actors. The "conversation" with Baumbach and film critic Philip Lopate is probably the more interesting of the two shorts included with Baumbach discussing everything from the inspiration for the film to why the film ends the way it does.

A terrific, emotional powerful film that touches on the victims of divorce, "The Squid and the Whale" probably had the worst title of any of the films that came out last year which may have impacted its performance with audiences. The actors give terrific performances and it's a shame that the Academy Awards chose to overlook these performances.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Parents Are Deeply Flawed: Divorce as a Journey of Discovery for Children April 25 2006
By Jennifer Heath - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Did you live through the eighties, endure a "family conference," or take sides in the "which parent is the *bad* parent post-divorce debate?" If yes, you may find this film provides a clear-eyed look at the rupturing of a family through divorce. Set in New York, the Squid & the Whale is both indecently funny (for example the hilarious depiction of the writer/intellectual Bernard's decent into vacuousness via his mind numbing repetition of adjectives like "filet" "dense" and "elegant," which mask Bernard's lack of deep engagement with much of anything) and sharply painfully as it traces the journey of two angry sons stumbling toward a fuller understanding of who their parents really are.

For me, the most compelling storyline in this film was the coming of age tale of sixteen-year-old Walt. In the beginning of the film, Walt, and his twelve-year-old brother Frank, impotently act out against joint custody as well as their parents' unveiled sexuality. The two alternately challenge, refuse, and take on their parent's values. Over time, the sons stop reacting and begin to demand a role in creating their post-divorce lives. Walt's contempt for his mother (Laura Linney) and his glorification of his self-centered father (an acting tour de force by Jeff Daniels) begins to change as Walt experiences insight into his mother's motivation for her affairs and the nature of his mother and father's relationship (driven home to the viewer with the Squid and the Whale metaphor/exhibit at the Natural History Museum). Ultimately, we are left alone with Walt, humming "Hey You" by Pink Floyd, gazing at struggling monsters, facing fear, and wondering, " what's next?"

A flawless film? No. The psychological underpinnings of Bernard's dysfunction are too blatantly displayed (the long pan on his book, "Underwater," and the direct reference to his film poster, "The Mother and the Whore" - in case you missed it in the background). And it was a bit trite to have Walt's awakening occur during a conversation with a psychologist. But then again, one could argue that we are always blaring out the roots of our malaise to anyone who would care to listen and, perhaps it was fitting - in the context of the film -- that Walt began to understand his own mind by creating a narrative about his past happiness. So I would say yes, definitely well worth a viewing. Perhaps even two.
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