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The Squid and the Whale

Friday, June 7 - Sunday, June 9, 2019

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“Exquisitely painful, root-canal-jabbingly uncomfortable, this black comedy from writer-director Noah Baumbach based on his parents’ breakup is bittersweet without the sweet. It lets you know in a big way what people mean when they say divorce is ‘traumatic.’ The unhappy tale is set in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1986, a pre-mobile-phone, pre-internet era of typewriters and being unable to contact your teenage kids when they are not home. Baumbach has perhaps remembered this time via Woody Allen movies and Philip Roth novels from the same period and before. Or perhaps, scarily, he has just taken it directly from real life.

Jeff Daniels plays Bernard Berkman: an insufferably pompous, bearded novelist and creative writing professor, whose books are not selling any more. His wife Joan (Laura Linney) is on the verge of leaving him and has chosen this moment to become a successful novelist herself, with a piece of work about to be published in the New Yorker magazine, a distinction that has always eluded Bernard.

Their elder son is the 16-year-old Walt, played by Jesse Eisenberg – a callow young man who has mastered his father’s bogus air of authority in talking about literature, and who calls Kafka’s books ‘Kafkaesque.’ Walt instinctively takes his father’s side, while his younger brother, 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), sympathises with his mother, and has developed a precocious habit of covertly masturbating in public. The boys are old enough to be sexually aware, old enough to argue and to confront their parents and feel desperately hurt, yet not old enough to move out, to disobey effectively, or fully to understand what is going on. Just to compound the horror, Bernard’s sexy student Lili (Anna Paquin) moves into his bachelor establishment in which the boys spend half the week, and naturally father and elder son lust after her equally – though without any emollient comic resolution.

…Before this, Baumbach was the screenwriter on Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou – Anderson in fact produces this movie, too – and his family issues found indirect expression in that whimsical comedy. Here they are agonisingly direct, and also very funny. All four family members give wonderful performances, especially Daniels as the monstrous novelist, desperately failing and flailing in confusion and fear.” – The Guardian (2006)

Screening as part of our Spring 2019 season of “Weekend Classics: Love, Mom and Dad.”

  • Country USA
  • Year 2005
  • Running Time 81 minutes
  • Director Noah Baumbach
  • Writer Noah Baumbach
  • Editor Tim Streeto
  • Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman
  • Cast Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin, William Baldwin, David Benger