The Squid and the Whale
Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jessie Eisenbourg
The fate of adolescent children snared in their parents’ break-up may not be a new theme, but Noah Baumbach treats it with humour, empathy and a note-perfect soundtrack.
A family game of tennis opens The Squid and the Whale: Dad and elder son pitted against Mum and the younger boy. The set-up primes you for scenes of domestic contentment, yet from the first minutes of writer-director Noah Baumbach’s new film you sense that something is awry.
This is marital relations reduced to bitter point-scoring, where the children are spectators to a contest whose rules they don’t understand.
It’s a suitably discordant introduction to the Berkmans, the middle-class Brooklyn family who are at the centre of The Squid and the Whale.
Ten minutes or so further in – after Dad has taken to sleeping on the sofa-bed and midnight rows with his wife are dimly heard by the kids upstairs – Bernard (Jeff Daniels – Pleasantville, Good Night and Good Luck) and Joan Berkman (Laura Linney – Kinsey, Mystic River) have seated their two sons down for a family conference amid the artful chaos of their brownstone living room. There Bernard and Joan nervously announce their separation.
At this 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), a slight, button-nosed kid who hasn’t yet outgrown his babyish nickname of Pickle, starts crying as his parents discuss the new living arrangements. His 16-year-old brother Walt (Jesse Eisenberg – The Village), a gangly, serious-looking teenager with a voice that trembles between adolescent intensity and insecurity, asks where the cat will now stay.