Title: The Squid and the Whale
Release Date: 2005
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 88 min
Distributor and Production Company: Samuel Goldwyn Films; Sony Pictures International (aka Sony Pictures Classics); Destination Films; Ambush Entertainment
Director; Writer: Noah Baumbach
Producer: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Harry Feiffer, Anna Paquin
Technical: flat shoot, Dolby digital
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: divorce; literary agents and writing
It’s easy enough to say the theme of this well-promoted independent film: divorce, and its effects on kids. It is based on the dirctor/writer’s own personal experience as a teen. The title suggests the nature of the divorce: the parents are somewhat the Whale and the Squid, minor adversaries (not like “The War of the Roses”) but nevertheless acrimonious enough to cause the cute family cat to run away and, in the final scene, get the older boy Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) to jog to the New York Museum of Natural History to see the exhibit on a conflict between a cetacean mammal and a cephalopod mollusk – a great example of convergent evolution, just like men and women. Okay, the title is then a metaphor for the Masters and Johnson paradigm of Heterosexuality.
Both parents (Bernard and Joan, played by Jeff Daniels and
Laura Linney – and somehow Jeff Daniels seems too
much like Jeff Bridges – he fooled me!)
are “writers” and that makes a good discussion
of what that means. The wife is a newbie to the field. This is 1986 (in
The historical topicality of the year Reagenesque year 1986 is reinforced when the boys go to the movie with “dad” and see David Lynch’s notorious Blue Velvet; a clip is shown, but not the most interesting.
Soon Bernard tells the boys that he needs a family conference, and they spill the fact that the couple is separating, probably divorcing. Bernard will move a few blocks away and have the boys half the time. The obligatory sexual affairs will occur (including an affair between Bernard and a female student), and unfortunately the main reason for the breakup is the loss of sexual interest between the parents. (She has had an affair for four years.) Yes, it is hard to remain sexually interested in one partner for a lifetime, which is why collective moral standards are controversial.
Another main reason for the breakup is that these are two independent individuals. Joan, especially, seems to have found her own creative personhood. The family unit for its own sake is no longer a sufficient personal goal.
This breakup has an effect on the kids. Walt, who is extremely articulate and charismatic as a teen, gets sidetracked in his character. He plagiarizes a book report and, worse, claims to have composed a Pink Floyd song with which he wins a competition at school. His only rationalization is that “it feels like he could have written it.” Well, I take pride in my own creative ownership of my work, and it is hard for me to buy that. But Walt is so likeable, you want him to outgrow this. The school arranges therapy. Both boys engage in sexual experiments: Walt has a real girl friend, and in one scene there is the suggestion of premature ejaculation (as happens in the show TheWB Everwood), where as the younger boy experiments with masturbation in a library. (No, it is not shown completely, but it is strongly implied.)
At the end, Jeff has an apparent heart attack, or maybe not, but is hospitalized. You are left hoping that the boys will outgrow their parents, even if the lives split. But you know that divorce and the challenges in out culture to lifetime sexual fidelity have taken a toll.
The War of the Roses (1989, 20th
Century Fox, dir. Danny De Vito, based on the novel by Warren Adler,
screenplay by Michael Leeson, 116 min, R) is famous
for the bitter fight betweeh the Roses (played by
Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner), with Danny De Vito the divorce lawyer.
The title of course also refers to a famous period of British history. There
was a real life case in
A Man and a Woman (“Un homme et une femme”) (1966, Allied Artists, dir. Pierre Uytterhoeven) is a famous romantic French film about the potential of heterosexuality, with a famous theme song. Jean (Jean Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Anouk Aimee) meet at a boarding school that their children attend. A relationship grows slowly and overcomes all inhibitions and barriers.
Bee Season, Spellbound, and Akeelah and the Bee are moved to this file.
Lonesome Jim (2006,
Art School Confidential (2006, United
Artists/Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Terry Zwigoff,
story and screenplay by Daniel Clowes, R, 102 min,
USA). One of my own scripts has a similar premise: an “artist” invites
himself to be set up for a fall, and goes to jail in order to have his work
performed. Mine is really dark indeed, as the artist must die first to become
known and live forever. This variation of the story works as film noir and
satire, if it seems a little jumpy as a plot. Jerome Platz
(Max Minghella) is a sensitive freshman at the wild
Strathmore Institute (fictitious) in
The Science of Sleep (“La Science des reves”, 2006, Warner Independent Pictures/Gaumont, dir. Michel Gondry,
France, R, 105 min) starts out with handsome Gael Garcia Bernal as Stephane (whose background matches the actor’s), mixing
ingredients with kettle and ladle—“relationships, friendships and all those
ships.” The metaphor communicates the
film. The kitchen looks like a room in a kid’s doll house, sort of, and three
fourths of the film is in a constricted cardboard world, filled with the
knickknacks of dreams (and play cities and play airplanes made of folding
cardboard, too). Stephane has come to
Keane (2004, Magnolia/Canary, dir. Lodge H. Kerrigan, 94 min, R) starts out as a one-man schizoid soliloquy, as William Keane (played convincingly as a New Jersey native by British actor Damian Lewis) arrives at Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City (who hasn’t? -- or is he already there?) and trolls the city looking for his just missing (and perhaps imaginary) daughter, bothering people at every turn. Though destitute, he gives some money to a single mother Lynn Bedik (Amy Ryan) who has a seven year old daughter (Abigail Breslin). That encounter in the hall of a grungy apartment building is convincing. His other encounters, as one impulsive tryst with a pickup in a disco, can be brutal, and are met with brutal language. Let us say he does not practice self-control. Finally we wonder if his daughter is real. Steven Soderbergh produced this film, and an alternate cut that he edited is said to be better. (It is only about 75 minutes, and in a more logical sequence, so one can see the schizophrenia in Keane's thinking.) Like with "Pulp Fiction" there is a question of time sequence after all. The original cut, however, may have more to say about the existential problem of reality testing, or how we know what is "real"?
The Namesake (2007, Fox Searchlight, dir.
Mira Nair, novel by Jhumpa Lahiri,
122 min, PG-13) is an epic family drama about a Bengali family from India
reconciling itself with gradual emigration to America. In the 1970s, Ashkoke
Ganguli’s life is saved after a train wreck in
The Darjeeling Limited
(2007, Fox Searchlight, dir. Wes Anderson) is a road comedy with brothers
played by Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien
Brody becoming reunited with their misadventures in northern
Introducing the Dwights
(“Clubland”, Warner Independent Pictures /Film
There is one sequence, late in the movie, where Jean does an audition (pushed there by Tim), and makes a crude joke about men not eating before sex because one could vomit during sex. The judges confer among themselves, offended by her humor. The very next scene shows the boys playing cricket in the street. The sequence is similar to one in my script “Make the A-List”, available online (in the screenplays director), but there a young actor has a complicated audition and the beginning of the film, that brings up disturbing retrospects from the past life of one of the judges, and that long audition sequence is followed by a whiffleball game!
Driving Lessons (2006, Sony Pictures
Classics / Content Film, dir. Jeremy Brock, 98 min, PG-13) has 18-year old
redhead teen star Rupert Grint (known as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) as a shy teen Ben
Marshall, henpecked by a religious mom (Laura Linney)
who takes a job as housekeeper and companion of aging actress Evie Walton (Julie Walters). The job becomes more
intimate as Evie starts demanding attention from
him. On a bus, she accuses him of a “lack of curiosity” and “social autism.”
She explodes when he finds her private pictures, but then has to be helped to
the toilet when he finds her on the floor throwing up. She may be dying, and
they go on camping and road trips, with Ben, having failed a driving test,
acting as chauffeur. At one point, she swallows a car key to keep him out,
and lets it pass in pooh. She gets invited to
Early in the film there is a fragment of a sermon in which
the priest, after saying that following the Golden Rule is essential to
becoming a Christian, says, “True freedom is the capacity to explain the
Truth.” There is one line where Evie is told that
she is known on the “gay scene” despite her not having worked in a long time;
in a deleted scene Evie speculates whether he could
be a latent gay—all of this despite Evie’s
insistence that she would hire only a “Christian” as a confident. Ben only
starts speaking up about things during his “relationship” with Evie. The
December Boys (2007, Warner Independent
Pictures / Village Roadshow / Becker, dir. Rod
Hardy, novel by Michael Noonan, 105 min, Australia, PG-13) gives us Daniel
Radcliffe outside of the Harry Potter world. He plays Maps, the oldest of
four boys born in December (like June in
Lars and the Real Girl (2007,
Margot at the Wedding (2007, Paramount
Vantage, dir. Noah Baumbach, 92 min, R) seems even
goofier than “Squid” above and to me the characters were a bit hapless.
Author Margot (Nicole Kidman) invites herself, despite knowing she will be
unwelcome, to the wedding of her estranged sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason
Leigh) to a somewhat lost old soul Malcolm (Jack Black) who probably “needs”
a wife. Malcolm is a little bit embarrassing to look at, a bit like a seal
with a pot belling and absolutely hairless chess; the movie at this point
would almost be saying “there’s somebody for everyone.” It seems that “they
have to get married.” But the real problem (a premise we know of from the
Despite the amorphous material, the movie does have some foreshadowing: the tree climbing and rescue scene, to be followed by the sawing and fall-down, right on the wedding site.
Smart People (2008, Miramax /
Groundswell, dir. Noam Murro, 93 min, R) Okay, this
is a film about knowledge for its own sake. The widower Carnegie literature
professor Lawrence Wetherford (Dennis Quaid) is bossy and self-righteous (with the beginnings
of a gut), and has forced his way into the
Elegy (2008, Samuel Goldwyn / Lakeshore, dir. Isabel Coixet, novel “The Dying Animal” by Philip Roth, 106 min, R, Spain/Canada) A literature professor (Ben Kingsley) reviews his Manhattan life (filmed in Vancouver) as he has an intermittent relationship with an ex-student (Penelope Cruz). He loves her body, all right, and then there is a hiatus. She calls him on a New Years Eve and she tells him that she has advanced breast cancer and that her body will be “ruined.” The movie becomes a moral test of his character. Another male friend and fellow professor has a stroke and dies in his arms. Kingsley is my age, has his head shaved, his chest hair gray, and he hasn’t gone bald in the legs. He’s got all the spunk in the world. Blogger discussion.
The Limey (1999, Artisan, dir. Steven Soderbergh). A British ex-con (Terence Stamp) comes to LA to resolve the mystery of his daughter’s “accidental” death. Blogger (See “Keane” above.)
Adam (2009. Fox Searchlight, dir. Max Mayer, 99 min, PG-13) has Hugh Downey as a mostly gentle engineer with Asperger’s, finding romance. Blogger.
“500” Days of Summer (2009, Fox Searchlight, dir. Marc Webb, 95 min, PG-13). An out-of-sequence story of a young man’s attempt to woo a disinterested woman. Interesting technique. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is positively virile. Blogger.
Cold Souls (2009, Samuel Goldwyn, dir. Sophie Barthes, 101 min,PG-13, USA/Russia). A company extracts and buys souls from people’s brains; Paul Giamatti’s turns out to be a chickpea. His girl friend opens him up and finds him “scaly.” Blogger.
A Serious Man (2009, Focus/Working Title, Joel and Ethan Coen, 105 min, R) Family matters for a nerdy physics professor whose life falls apart. Biting satire of Jewish life. Blogger.
Precious (2009, LionsGate, dir. Lee Daniels, book “Push” by Sapphire) Blogger.
Skin (2008, Magnolia?/Jour de Fete/BBC/Elysian, dir. Antony Fabian, 110 min, UK/South Africa) Blogger
Brothers (2009, LionsGate, dir. Jim Sheridan, 110 min, R, USA) Blogger.
Please Give (2009, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Nicole Holofcener) examines “hollow giving” by a wealthy NYC businesswoman, who has bought an apartment hoping the resident will die. Blogger.
Related reviews:. A Door in the Floor The Dying Gaul Finding Forrester Antwone Fisher Good Will Hunting Blue Velvet The Perfect Score Music of the Heart La Dolce Vita Bee Season, Spellbound, Akeelah and the Bee Dreamscape Meet the Fockers The Journey
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