In this current age of independent filmmaking it seems that ‘quirk’ has become the new cool. Gone are the ‘girl and the gun’ aesthetics that populated the Tarantino nineties. We’re at a stage where films like Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite are the most quoted films amongst teenagers. Now, I don’t really like those two above mentioned films. In fact, I outright loathe one of them. However, I do like Wes Anderson and seeing as this film is a creation of his new co-writer, I was quite excited to see it.
The Squid and the Whale is a semi-autobiographical tale written and directed by Noah Baumbach. Set in 1980s Brooklyn, Jeff Daniels is the patriarch of a very bohemian and very cool family. Pity then, that him and his wife (the always on-form Laura Linney) are in the throes of some pretty messy domestic issues that eventually lead to divorce which, in turn, has a profound and disturbing effect on their children.
It all sounds very much like ‘movie of the week’ material but thankfully Baumbach has a much richer plan in mind. Despite my expectations, this is a film that doesn’t really fit into the independent trend I introduced before. Shot in a style that echoes the cinema of New Wave, it never cheaply reduces its characters to the point of comedic vehicles (unlike some other recent indie releases). Instead, it captures them at a certain time, and allows the comedy to gradually creep to the surface. All of the actors understand this method and deliver performances that complement it perfectly.
Not much really happens in The Squid and the Whale. Perhaps that’s why it’s such an incredible film. It’s light and dark, rich and empty. It’s ridiculously well measured. A film about real people. There’s the sense that its creation was just such a beautiful release for Baumbach. You get a very internal vibe while watching. It’s not until the final shot that all the understated emotion presents itself in one big cluster(fuck) of pain, joy, sorrow and relief. It’s for all these reasons that it’s one of the more moving films in recent memory. It’s also the only time I’ve shed a tear since I watched Babe.
Directed by Noah Baumbach