Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quacking BetaMax: The Squid and the Whale

After talking with a couple friends, I decided that I will start doing video reviews in addition to the new movie reviews. To keep them seperate I am going to call them Quacking BetaMax because there is a part of me that wishes the betamax never went away.

This week, compliments of Netflix for delivering "The Squid and the Whale" (2005) is first of two reviews for Noah Baumbach with the other being "Greenberg" (2010). I first learned about Noah Baumbach when I was in college and picked up the movie "Kicking and Screaming" (1995) which is far from a comedy with Will Ferrell. Noah Baumbach does a terrific job writing characters that are believable and engaging the audience in the battles that the protagonist goes through during the film. "The Squid and the Whale" may be his most complex as he delivers deeply powerful characters from diverse perspectives.

The film focuses on the true childhood experiences that he and his brother dealt with when their parents divorced. The acting is superb with Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels as the parents that have decided to seperate. Unlike many other films of this topic the focus isn't solely on the parents or the children, but balances both ends to let the audience understand just how messed up the family dynamics are. Jeff Daniels is a University professor that is struggling to be an accomplished writer as a he once was. His narrow minded opinions fail to accept others and puts distance between his wife, Laura Linney, who is an upcoming writer. Even though the wife is made to be the victim of the marriage, she isn't innocent either as she has had past affairs. The redeeming aspect for her is that she is a wonderful and caring mother.

There isn't one person involved in this family that has it all figured out, least of all the children played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline. It is Owen Kline that truly steals this film as the younger brother that decidedly starts drinking and exploring his sexuality as many 12 year-old boys have. His older brother, played by Jesse Eisenberg is painful to watch. I cannot decide if Jesse Eisenberg is just a flat actor or the characters he attaches himself with are all the same. Here we have a teen that admires his father so much that he becomes delusional about his relationships with others. To impress his parents he tells everyone that he wrote an original song for a school talent contest when it is clearly "Hey You" written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. He has lost sight of what affection really is and struggles to find it throughout the film.

I believe that Noah Baumbach uses his personal life as a model for his films. With "The Squid and the Whale" you can see how he could become the characters in "Kicking and Screaming" and/or "Greenberg". I just hope that he doesn't run out of material. I give Noah Baumbach 4 Quacks for his honest telling of his childhood.

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