Noah Baumbach is a creative force to reckon with. He has proved his writing excellence with his work on "Life Aquatic," but his new film "The Squid and The Whale," which he wrote and directed, shows that he can make a movie that is not only fun and entertaining but also deeply moving.
"The Squid and the Whale" is among the most original films of the year. This is because of Baumbach's move away from conventional filmmaking. He described this in an interview with Deborah Solomon, "I grew up in the heat of '70s postmodern fiction and post-Godard films, and there was this idea that what mattered was the theory or meta in art. My film is emotional rather than meta, and that's my rebellion."
Out of this rebellion comes a truly remarkable film. It is indeed emotional rather than theory based, and it does not conform to contemporary and formulaic approaches to film. There is no set structure, so it is as though the audience is just getting a peek into the lives of these four characters as they are going through a difficult time.
"The Squid and the Whale" is an autobiographical account of how Baumbach and his brother dealt with their parents' divorce.
Older brother Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) has complete admiration for his father Bernard (Jeff Daniels), so during the divorce he sides with him. Younger brother Frank (Owen Kline) has a disjointed relationship with his father, and during the divorce he sides with his mother Joan (Laura Linney).
Throughout the course of the movie, the family is essentially split into two teams, Walt and Bernard versus Frank and Joan. But what moves the film forward are the pushes and pulls each person faces with every other family member.
Fundamentally, what makes this film great is that not only do all of the characters go through a catharsis and then some sort of transformation, but their relationships with one another do as well. And since the basis for the film is these transformations, it relies almost entirely on the performances of its cast.
Linney and Eisenberg are great, but they are not the most outstanding of the cast. Kline is definitely the heart of the film. His confusion, vulnerability and ultimately unnerving reactions to his parents' divorce make Frank the most interesting character in the film, and this is because of Kline's performance and Baumbach's writing.
The best performance in the film, however, is Daniels'. Bernard is an intellectual snob who is always making blanket statements about literature (he is a famous author), society or personalities. He tells Frank that Joan's new boyfriend Ivan is a "philistine," and when Frank asks him what that is, he says, "someone who does not appreciate art or books, music or film." But more than that, Bernard is a wounded victim who is unable to take responsibility for his part in the divorce, and Daniels transmits this with geniuslike ease.
"The Squid and the Whale" is a movie to see. Its unconventionality, beautiful writing and wonderful performances leave nothing to be desired except the next movie from Baumbach.