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The Squid and the Whale

Joint Custody Blows.  

Year: 2005 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from The Squid and the Whale

Director: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Anna Paquin, William Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline

The Berkman family of 1980s Brooklyn consists of author and teacher Bernard (Daniels), literary pursuant mother Joan (Linney), and sons Walt (Eisenberg) and Frank (Kline). Their harmonious lives are thrown into turmoil when the parents agree to separate, and to a joint custody arrangement. What follows is a wonderful film charting the journey that each member of the family undertakes.

Bernard begins by taking up accommodation in a run-down flat across the park so that he can remain close to the boys. His slow realisation that his next book might never be published is offset by the introduction of Lili (Paquin), a female writing student of his, who has a hidden agenda when Bernard invites her to share his new home as a roommate. Meanwhile, Joan goes public about her affair to Frank's tennis instructor, Ivan (Baldwin), and fulfils her dream of becoming a published writer by selling an article to the New Yorker.

The boys don't take news of Joan's affair well; Walt, in particular, bitterly lashes out and blames her for not giving the marriage a chance. He consoles himself with adolescent love, but is compelled to deny it to himself, because his father urges him to play the field, and he values his father's opinions more than is wise, resulting in a wonderfully cringe-inducing break-up. Meanwhile, budding tennis-pro wannabe Frank, the youngest, begins to experiment with alcohol and masturbation.

Daniels and Linney put in top performances that should have yielded at least one Oscar nomination, portraying separated parents with real anguish. Both the boys showed great timing and comic awareness with a very grown-up script, whilst the supporting pair of Paquin and Baldwin played their roles with conviction. But it is director and writer Noah Baumbach who steals the show with an achingly funny and sharply witty film; a bittersweet semi-autobiographical account of his own family's dealing with his parent's divorce, deservedly receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Alex Coe

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Screenings of this film:

2006/2007 Autumn Term (35mm)