Rae had suggested that she wanted to see “The Squid And The Whale” but since I had heard that it was a study of a disintegrating family after a bitter divorce I wasn’t keen and it was only after she said that she’d heard it was actually quite amusing that I agreed. I normally don’t touch reviews as I like to keep an open mind but when I’m undecided about seeing something I do look for a general consensus. The Guardian movie section does have a great comparative chart so you can see how a movie favours across the board. This one seemed to have found praise everywhere and the cast looked good – the added attraction of lovely Anna Paquin playing an almost identical role to her sassy student in Spike Lee’s superb 25th Hour was difficult to ignore.
The film was actually fantastic. Set in 1986 it was director, Noah Baumbach’s memories of his own parents’ split and how it affected him and his brother. Jeff Daniels took the main role after Bill Murray became unavailable and, not that Murray isn’t consistently watchable, I’m quite glad as Daniels was excellent. Jeff Daniels is actor persistently undervalued, most memorable for tripe like “Dumb and Dumber” (where Jim Carrey made sure he dominated the screen anyway) and small roles in things like Speed and Pleasantville. His minor role in The Hours went largely unnoticed. Here Daniels plays overbearing Bernard, a (very) bearded English literature teacher who had found semi literary fame some time ago but having failed to get anything published since has become chronically resentful and insecure when his wife (the ever excellent Laura Linney) finds success with her own work. This indirectly leads to the divorce. Brooklyn in the 80’s is well realised and there are myriad precious moments as the two boys try to come to terms with their parents’ living apart and being used to score points against a parent by the other, not to mention their own growing pains. It is in turns painful and hilarious. Younger brother Frank (no older than ten) takes to heavy drinking and masturbating in school to a disembodied magazine picture of female genitalia (taking care to wipe his semen over library books and locker doors) while older brother Walt tries to emulate his father’s literary pontificating while chatting up girls, claiming that Kafka’s writing is Kafkaesque. What’s also interesting is how Walt sides with his father but Frank has more of a simpatico relationship with his mother and how this affects the dynamic when the joint custody entails time spent at respective parents’ houses. Throw in the complications caused when young Lili (Paquin) moves in with Bernard and William Baldwin as Frank’s “right on” tennis coach and it makes for a very entertaining 80 mins. I realised afterwards that Noah Baumbach had co-written “The Life Aquatic” with Wes Anderson (who co produced this) which largely explains why it was so good. Well worth your time if you get the chance to see it.