The Squid and the Whale

Bomb Rating: 

If ever there was a film demonstrating why parenting classes ought to be legally mandated for anyone having children, this is it.

If ever there was a film demonstrating why parenting classes ought to be legally mandated for anyone having children, this is it. "The Squid and the Whale" is a semi-autobiographical tale from director Noah Baumbach about his experience as a young boy during the divorce of his parents during the 1980s in New York. Warning: Both parents were writers.

To varying degrees and in different ways, the parents manipulate the children once they separate, although Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) is clearly far more vindictive than his soon-to-be ex-wife, Joan (Laura Linney). Regardless, you spend the whole movie wanting to drop-kick these two into a parenting class. The two brothers, teenage Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and the younger Frank (Owen Kline), choose their sides, creating even more meanness. Walt worships his dad while Frank leans toward his mother.

Neither parent is particularly committed to the whole "parenting" thing. Joan has been cheating on Bernard for four years, leading Walt to call her a "whore." While she's hardly a whore, she is awfully frank with her kids about her sex life and right after the separation, has not qualms about bringing her lovers home. However, Bernard pretty much deserves to be cheated on.

Basically, Bernard is one of those writers whose time has passed. He has a teaching job and is revered for a book published many years ago while Joan has just finished a book and is getting it published. To say Bernard resents her success is a mild understatement. Unfortunately, he acts out through his children. He makes pathetic attempts to provide a similar environment to the one Joan provides and fails. However, his insecurities really play out in his conversations with Walt, telling Walt to "play the field" and basically undermining Walt's first relationship with a girl (Halley Feiffer) while he pursues a student (Anna Paquin). For his part, Frank (Owen Kline), acts out by masturbating and smearing his semen on a variety of objects at school.

Yes, it was long ago - the '80s - and the term "dysfunctional" had yet to be widely used. All this film does is prove that some things are ageless.

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