The Squid and the Whale is an upsetting film, mostly due to its unapologetic and arrogant characters. The entire time, you're waiting for some sort of resolution or hope that things will work out, and you never get it. Noah Baumbach is slowly becoming the king of divorce movies, with this film and of course last year's Marriage Story. He's a man who understands that divorce is different for anyone who goes through it, especially when there are kids involved. People process dramatic change differently, and this film is entirely about the process.
When Bernard (Daniels) and Joan (Linney) announce to their two kids Walt (Eisenberg) and Frank (Kline) that they are getting divorced, both kids spiral in very different ways. Bernard and Joan both have PhD's in literature, with Bernard heading the household as a formerly successful writer turned teacher. Bernard is arrogant, controlling, and looks down on anyone he deems a "philistine." Walt has absorbed a lot of his personality, so much so that he's basically a sociopath with a chip on his shoulder. The performances are all fantastic, and I now have a bit more respect for Jesse Eisenberg's talent as an actor, particularly towards the end of the film.
This is a family made up of assholes. Mom, Dad, and both kids are just rotten people who use their intelligence as a weapon against people who, in their eyes, don't matter. Watching them disintegrate as a family is, in a weird way, a sort of poetic justice. And in typical Baumbach fashion, there is no resolution. It's far from the end of the story, but we as the audience only get to view this small part. I'm sure anyone with split-up parents can relate to at least some small part of this film. It's a rough one at times.
Noah Baumbach recently directed a film called Marriage Story that focuses on a divorce. The Squid and the Whale also focuses on a divorce, but under much different circumstances and perspectives. This was Baumbach’s fourth film but his first time working with actors like Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, who both kill it in their respective roles. It’s safe to say that Baumbach hasn’t looked back, but only moved forward as a creator.
Bernard (Daniels) and Joan Berkman (Linney) have been married for 13 years and have two children together. Both of them strive for success in the writing field while their two sons, Walt (Eisenberg) and Frank (Kline) try to live up to their expectations. Early on, Bernard and Joan tell their kids that they will be getting divorced causing them to pick sides in all kinds of categories in life.
The Squid and the Whale hones in on family and how we move forward when we aren’t getting along. This was a big role for Eisenberg and it still stands strong as one of my favorites from his career. Daniels and Linney are built for scripts like this one, due to Baumbach’s uncanny ability to capture authentic emotions. I can’t believe Owen Kline hasn’t really had a career after crushing it in this film at age fourteen. Baumbach says a lot of things through his characters in just eighty minutes giving it a tempo that is so unsettling, but oh so good.