THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is a good example of the Too Close To The Bone Theory (that I just now made up) that can affect judgments we sometimes levy on hapless actors. (It may be a distant cousin to good old-fashioned prejudice, but that’s a dissertation for someone else to plunder.) I have a close friend, as kind & intelligent, rational & open as you’d wish, who can’t abide Jeff Daniels since she saw him play such a weasel—so well— back in 1983s Terms Of Endearment. She can’t shake this ick despite his winning work in items as varied as Arachnophobia, Gettysburg and The Newsroom (lest we forget Dumb And Dumber).
This 2005 dramedy is not going to win her over, as Daniels unflinchingly essays to the very nth a casually arrogant, utterly insufferable, self-absorbed intellectual buffoon (literary branch, complete with rumpled clothes, requisite beard and Volvo). This smug control-freak ruins his family life, driving wife Laura Linney (excellent as ever) to despair and affair, while elder son Jesse Eisenberg (another actor who can faultlessly play complete jerks–I have to fight against my own just-hatched theory when I watch this dude) apes Dad in his petty disdain for the feelings of other humans. Younger son (Owen Kline) tries to hold it together. “Mom and me versus you and Dad“.
An art-house indie, this wickedly sharp dissection of a family too-smart-for-any-good was a smash with critics, and returned a satisfying $11,000,000 on a bare-bones $1,500,000 production cost, a labor of love (pain) for writer-director Noah Baumbach, basically relating his own experiences through the unsparingly honest, acid-funny characters.
Oscar nominated for the superb Screenplay, and awarded all over the place by other panels, it’s excruciating, touching, relentlessly frank, sexually honest and bitter (do those last two go together–don’t answer.) Not designed to get you particularly anxious to move to Brooklyn.
With Anna Paquin, William Baldwin, Halley Feiffer, at 81 minutes.