Review: The Squid and the Whale (2005)

the squid and the whale

Of all the things to do with semen, that course of action never occurred to me!

Written By: Noah Baumbach
Directed By: Noah Baumbach

Adoration, that’s what I have for The Squid and the Whale. It’s been a long time since I watched a film this honest, and a film without a hint of pretension. That’s what I loved most about The Squid and the Whale, how the film couches these pretentious characters in brutal honesty. They appear pretentious on the surface, but the more time we spend with them the easier it is to spot their shortcomings, misgivings, and frailty. The frank honesty of this film surprised me, because to tell the truth I was expecting nothing more than a quirky comedy. I’ll gladly take the egg on my face when it comes from a movie willing to use honesty to as great of an effect as The Squid and the Whale.

I started off liking The Squid and the Whale, and as the film progressed my feelings turned from liking it to loving it and finally to adoring Noah Baumbach’s film. I was lukewarm on Greenberg when I watched it a few years ago, and this is the first film I’ve seen from Mr. Baumbach since. I don’t think I have his style pegged yet, and it may just be that his style changes slightly from film to film. There are obvious similarities between this and Greenberg, but the key difference is in the level of manufacturing at play. Greenberg is very manufactured, it toys with its characters and the concept of quirk in a way that never feels natural. The Squid and the Whale is quirky, but it never feels manufactured. This is a very natural film, I believed in these characters, their lives, and the situations in which they found themselves. Greenberg is a decent film, but The Squid and the Whale is a tremendous work of natural beauty.

There’s not a bad apple in the cast of The Squid and the Whale. I was impressed by every member of the cast, but if I were forced to whittle down my favorites it would have to be either Jeff Daniels or Jesse Eisenberg. In both cases I would say this is the role of their career, the moment when they shine the brightest as actors. For Mr. Daniels it is a case of his bull in a china shop approach to Bernard. There’s no stopping his way of seeing the world, and in every scene Mr. Daniels puts forth that depressing view with hammer like clarity. Mr. Eisenberg shows true acting chops in The Squid and the Whale. Walt parrots his father throughout, but as the film progresses Mr. Eisenberg allows the audience to see how damaged he has become because of his parents way of raising him. Mr. Eisenberg is subtle as Walt, and that’s why he ends the film not as a parrot but as a teenager who is beginning to find his own voice.

I laughed a lot during The Squid and the Whale. Mr. Baumbach’s film is just as much of a comedy as it is a drama. Even when I was laughing I found myself feeling for the depressing state of the Berkman family. It’s a testament to how great this film is that it’s able to elicit laughs and heartfelt sorrow at the same time. The Squid and the Whale is many things, but above all else it is a great motion picture in every way possible. I don’t give away adoration lightly, but The Squid and the Whale is a film worthy of deep adoration.



Bill Thompson

2 responses to “Review: The Squid and the Whale (2005)

  1. Probably my favorite Noah Baumbach film to-date, although Frances Ha does run a close-second. Good review Bill.

  2. Have yet to see Frances Ha, but I did like this way more than Greenberg or Margot at the Wedding.

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