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"The Squid and the Whale"

Directed by Noah Baumbach.
Written by Noah Baumback.
Starring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  2/6/06


I have been trying to catch this flick forEVer...and, I'm glad that I took the douple dip today at the E-Street Theater downtown, because my life is a better place thanks to the Oscar-nominated divorce dramedy "The Squid and the Whale."

The movie, based on writer/director Noah Baumbach's adolescent life, follows two brothers growing up in a Brooklyn household in the mid-80s with two angry parents and the prospect of a divorce that will break the household into two sides:  on one side, you've got Bernie (Jeff Daniels), the kids' dad and artsy intellectual that used to be a famous author of important books but has devolved into an also-ran that is desperate to find a publisher for his newest work.  Bernie also has a tendency to curse in front of his kids, to advise the kids to take advantage of Mom's weak points on a tennis court, and to generally be an asshole.  On the other side of the divorce:  Joan (Laura Linney), who has cheated on her husband regularly over their 17-year marriage and who is now the family's resident published works badass, having just put out a novel and excerpts that were released in The New Yorker recently.  The kids, who have to be at varying locations three or four days a week thanks to joint custody, are in transition right now as well:  Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) is dealing with his first real relationship, is learning guitar and developing feelings for a girl (Anna Paquin) that is a student in his dad's lit theory class, and his younger brother Frank (Owen Kline) is learning to combine his newfound taste for profanity with his newfound discovery of masturbation.

It's one big, fucked-up family--the kind that the movies just fall in love with over and over again.

Baumbach is most famous for his flick "Kicking and Screaming" (from '96) and his association with Wes Anderson, who co-produced "The Squid and the Whale" after the twosome wrote the script for the so-so "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."  His current script is fantastic (and now, up for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar), and it drops dimes left and right thanks to constant profanity and witty banter between Bernie and his two kids.  As funny as "The Squid and the Whale" is, it will ring true for anyone that has been in a family that has been through a divorce (ahem, me) and the film is a very accurate take on the kind of funny pain that kids go through as they try to figure out why or if or how they will take sides and how the situation can be as awkward mentally as it is socially, especially in the high school environment.

The two kids are really the leads here, and both are excellent; adult support from Daniels, Linney, Paquin and William Baldwin as a local tennis pro are all quite funny.  The issues I had with the film had mostly to do with the editing and the sheer length of the picture; I actually wanted more of the various dramas unfolding but at a crisp 85 minutes, it ends too quickly for you to gain a foothold.  Also, the editing just doesn't seem to fit; you get scenes like Frank's first experiences with jerking off that are accompanied by strange music and that end a bit too quickly...the transitions in "The Squid and the Whale" in general don't make much sense, as if they were working on a really skimpy budget and could not afford to make any more of a movie than necessary.  This shouldn't be the case, since the budget certainly wasn't tied to the length of the scenes in the editing room, but it feels shoddy and I was not too impressed in this area.

Otherwise, it works.  I can see now why "The Squid and the Whale" has been in theaters here since November; even today, the theater I went to was at about 75% capacity, which is great for a movie in its fourth month here in Washington.  Hopefully, this one will make waves come a month from now at the Oscars.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09