Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Covered In Semen.
Payback can be a bitch. I may have mentioned this before, but when it comes to films I see in theatres, my research team and I work on an alternating schedule as to who gets to pick the movie. At first, this seemed like a reasonable way to ensure that our theatre-going experience covered a wide range of genres and styles, never getting stuck in a rut or mired in one particular form of filmmaking. However, it rapidly became apparent that since my research team consists of one remarkably vindictive female who ranks films according to the amount of Jude Law present in the final theatrical cut, our alternating schedule would quickly degenerate into a passive aggressive war of attrition. Now, I routinely make her travel to different cities so I can force her to watch mini-DV films in which muscled white supremacists cut the silicone out of a stripper’s breasts, and she picks movies at random based upon how annoyed I’m going to get at the pretentious film geek title. And that’s how I ended up watching The Squid and the Whale, the title of which suggests it should be either a Hemmingway short story or a quarterly poetry magazine published out of a high school on the coast of Maine. And you know what? I’m glad I did. I’m actually happy that the punishment doled out for dragging my girlfriend to Saw II took the form of this film. It’s like getting sentenced to sensitivity training for throwing a brick through a Korean corner store window, then meeting a really nice skinhead chick in the class who also likes Romper Stomper for all the wrong reasons and has every A.C. release since The 88 Song E.P.
The Squid and the Whale is a film written and directed by Noah Baumbach, a relative newcomer to the film world, who shows some real talent here. Prior to this film, he wrote The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which is strange, because The Squid and The Whale is exactly like The Royal Tenenbaums, only with less primary colours. Set in 1986, the film revolves around a pair of young brothers dealing with the separation and divorce of their intellectual parents, and the conflicts that ensue. Be warned, however, though the film is marketed as a quirky comedy, it’s less funny than disturbingly awkward most of the time, and contains significantly more smeared semen than most family comedies tend to, though to be fair, I hear that if you watch the first cabin scene in the original Parent Trap frame by frame, there are several inserted stills of Hayley Mills squirting on herself. I didn’t laugh so much as cringe most of the time, but unlike Meet the Parents, which features the same type of awkward humour, I felt good after I left the theatre, instead of like burning down Robert De Niro’s house. There’s a lot going on in this film, not only in the sharp writing, but in the stylistic elements and editing. I decided to try and write this review with at least a modicum of originality, and therefore set out to not mention the French New Wave influence like every jackass with a newspaper job trying to justify his film studies degree, but it doesn’t seem to be avoidable. For those who haven’t wasted upwards of three years of their life in a darkened stadium-seated classroom while an immigrant prof from behind the Iron Curtain tries to illuminate the revolutionary aspects of irritating Czech films about hairy naked women having food fights, French New Wave cinema was an important movement in film art that still reverberates in film today. Essentially, for a film to have New Wave stylistic elements, it has to have handheld camera, an ending that doesn’t make sense in any real way, and is contractually required to get pretty annoying half-way through. The Squid and the Whale has all this and more, but unlike the French New Wave, it has professional actors in it, which brings it to a level considerably more believable than a bunch of schoolchildren who are terribly cute but unable to do much more than stare at the camera and visibly strain to hear off-screen directions.
The cast of the film is unusually good. Usually, an indy filmmaker on a low budget film will blow their wad on a few bigger names for the leads, then fill the rest of the film with university buddies, the children of investors, and a guy they met in Chelsea who can get really good weed. Apparently, however, Baumbach had to save his wad for the aforementioned semen-smearing scenes, so the film was cast well, and cast deep. Laura Linney plays the mother of the broken home, the kid from Roger Dodger plays the eldest son alongside a creepy 12 year old rapist as the youngest, and an enormous 70s child molester beard plays Jeff Daniels, as the father. Both duelling parents are presented as simultaneously heroic and flawed, which is a welcome respite from Not Without My Daughter histrionics and the Disney character arc of crappy parent to model dad featured in Kramer Vs. Kramer. A word of warning, however. A Baldwin is in the film, and though thankfully it’s not Stephen, it’s not Alec either, so be afraid. The film moves at its own pace, revealing more and more about its characters in strange and usually unpleasant ways, before bringing us to an ambiguous, but yet satisfying conclusion. The Squid and the Whale doesn’t follow a traditional pattern, but the film has its own climax, its own release of tension, and though it felt troublesome and awkward in many places, the writing is so strong, and the direction so assured, that I feel the need to smear my own pleasure all over the face of this website, for all to see. Don’t tell my research team, though, because I have to punish her with Vampire Circus later on tonight.