The Squid and the Whale, written and directed by Noah Baumbach
A different version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:
- https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEVa4_CsRStSBBDo4uJWT8BSWtTTn0N1E and http://realini.blogspot.ro/
This is a smart, sophisticated and funny…drama.
Even if the story is familiar, the approach is unusual.
The film is intellectual, thought provoking and superior.
The audience gets to hear comments, some wise others humorous on:
- Dickens, Kafka, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other writers and…tennis players.
Our very own Nastase is mentioned and referred to as an obnoxious player and we recently had occasion to see again how true this is.
- [first lines]
- Frank Berkman: Mom and me versus you and Dad.
The very first lines draw very well the battle lines, at least for most of the film, even if changes do occur.
During a tennis match, Bernard Berkman and his elder son, Walt attack their opponents with rather aggressive shots.
Bernard is played by the wonderful Jeff Daniels, Joan is portrayed by Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg has the role of Walt and Owen Kline is great as the younger Frank.
There are some disputes, after the tennis game during which Bernard seemed to hit the ball hard and deliberately, targeting his wife.
Then one day, the father tells the boys to come straight home after school, because they have something to discuss…
And the couple announces they are separating and will share the custody of the children, only they have forgotten about…the cat.
I liked Bernard, even if he could be preposterous, arrogant, self-sufficient and superficial, with ridiculous views on some subjects, and he seems to have transferred some of that attitude to his son, Walt:
“Walt Berkman: It's Welles' masterpiece, really. Many people think it's Citizen Kane, but Magnificent Ambersons, if it hadn't been ruined by the studio, would've been his crowning achievement. As it is, it's still brilliant. It's the old story, genius not being recognized by the industry.
Lance: It sounds great. Who's in it?
Walt Berkman: Orson Welles? I don't know, I haven't seen it yet. I've seen stills.”
Walt performs in a completion and he introduces a song that he was supposed to have been original, his own composition, only it is Pink Floyd’s creation and he is exposed and then asked to return the prize money.
Frank has issues of his own, that may be generated or at least aggravated by the separation of his parents.
He masturbates in the library and he is also discovered and then the Berkmans are called to school for discussion.
Bernard appears again as obnoxious, but also funny, being a complicated and intriguing character- he asks – how do you know that the two semen stains you found were both his…?
Bernard Berkman had been a successful writer that is not published any more, but his wife is now acclaimed.
The difference in status is part of the problem, maybe more in the mind of the husband, who also teaches in a class.
Lily, played by the excellent Anna Paquin, one of the youngest ever to receive an Oscar for her role in the Piano, is interested in Bernard.
When she has no place to live for a while- unless “she blows the supervisor”- she is invited to use the spare room that her professor has.
And they become sexually intimate, even if this is more than inappropriate and Walt may have feelings for the same girl.
The situation is further complicated when Joan is involved with the tennis teacher who gives lesson to Frank…
“Bernard Berkman: Ivan is fine but he's not a serious guy, he's a philistine.
Frank Berkman: What's a philistine?
Bernard Berkman: It's a guy who doesn't care about books and interesting films and things.”
And the dialogue is sparkling, entertaining, challenging, elevated, with fireworks and cultural references at almost every other step:
“Bernard Berkman: [Waiting to be taken away in an ambulance after having a heart attack] Degolas.
Joan Berkman: What?
Bernard Berkman: It means "bitch." Don't you remember?
Joan Berkman: You're calling me a bitch?
Bernard Berkman: No, don't you remember the last line of Godard's "A Bout De Souffle"? Belmondo calls Seberg a bitch. "Degolas." We saw it at the Thalia with the Dicksteins. I got you in for the children's price. You were pregnant with Walt.”
"dégueulasse" means disgusting, awful not bitch…