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The Squid and the Whale

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin
Released by: Sony Classics

In Short: Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney headline an all-too-realistic portrayal of the turmoil caused by divorce.

Without a Net
Joys of Joint Custody

by Andrew Bender

You’re a teenager in the mid-1980s, the age of wine coolers, Pink Floyd and “Three’s Company” reruns. As if that wasn’t painful enough, your dad is an oaf and a snob and your mom is sleeping around, yet you’re still expected to love them. I’m so sure!

The dad in question is Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels), a writer grasping on to the glory of an early career peak, and mom is Joan (Laura Linney), who is suddenly getting published everywhere. Their life teems with the trappings of two PhDs in literature: shabby-chic Brooklyn digs, The New Yorker, Saul Bellow, Strunk and White, game after game of tennis, no parking space for the Peugeot and blessed little happiness.

Once Joan and Bernard split up, 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), shuttle between two homes and two lives and find themselves increasingly miserable. Their parents, meanwhile, are so caught up in their own antagonism that they grow oblivious to the boys. Though this portrayal is certainly realistic, it left us wanting to take a shower—alone.

“The Squid” is familiar fare for Linney, one of our reigning independent movie queens, and here she delivers reliably, as always. It’s a less likely—and a smart—vehicle for Daniels. From “the Purple Rose of Cairo” through “Dumb & Dumber,” his work has required him to do little more than look good and not mess up, but in this film he goes from being handsome but blank to, well, neither. What’s next? Ashton Kutcher doing Shakespeare?

Also look out for William Baldwin's silly and hilarious performance as Ivan, Frank's idol and tennis coach, and Joan's rebound boyfriend. But the movie’s real bright spot is Eisenberg. His Walt becomes the fulcrum of the movie, the one we can’t hate as we watch him combat inner and outer demons and turn into a man. And we hope, but don’t have total confidence, that he can do better than his parents.


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