Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical The Squid and the Whale (2005) may be the funniest film about divorce and its reverberations through the family ever made.
Jeff Daniels is the insufferably pretentious father, an author and literature professor who passes judgment on every topic with such dismissive authority that his eldest son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg in a break-out performance) accepts it all as simple truth. Laura Linney is the mother who finally bails out of the marriage to find her own voice and romantic life, much to the discomfort of the kids.
Daniels delivers a career-remaking performance as the once successful novelist who lords his education and his cultured appreciation of art over everyone as if it is the only yardstick of true human achievement. He’s aggressively competitive in every aspect of his life, from tennis against his wife to ping-pong with his youngest son to measuring his slumping career to his wife’s increasing successful writing career. He is too busy analyzing, judging, and passing off his observations as some kind of objective reality, to actually engage with his wife or his sons.
No surprise that it thoroughly messes up the kids. Walt is so eager to act upon his father’s misguided advice on romance and sex that he lets expectations and attitude trump his own feelings and desires. Younger brother Frank (Owen Kline), meanwhile, acts out with unusual (and queasily hilarious) expressions of bodily functions.
The humor is lacerating and the scenes uncomfortably raw and revealing. Baumbach edits it all with a ruthless intensity, fearlessly cutting to the essence of scenes and vivid fragments of experience and then jumping headlong into the next scene.
Baumbach earned an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay and Film Independent Spirit Award nominations for direction and screenplay, and he won the Best Director and Best Screenplay awards at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
William Baldwin and Anna Paquin costar. Fellow indie filmmakers Wes Anderson is a producer.
Also on DVD and Blu-ray and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Squid and the Whale (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
The Squid and the Whale (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
The Squid and the Whale [DVD]
The original DVD release includes commentary by director Noah Baumbach, a conversation with director Noah Baumbach and film critic Philip Lopate, and the 2004 documentary “Behind The Squid and the Whale.”
The 2016 Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD editions includes interviews with director Noah Baumbach and actors Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, and Laura Linney, a conversation about the score and other music in the film between Baumbach and composers Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, plus the 2004 documentary “Behind The Squid and the Whale.”