I gotta be honest, I'm not totally familiar with Noah Baumbach's work, but he is married to Jennifer Jason Leigh and somehow that seems to bring her down a couple notches. Noah's oeuvre seems to be chronicling the lives of upper middle class white people who are unable to express themselves, mostly because they're exhausted and they've got nothing to say. But The Squid and The Whale seems to be his masterpiece, which I'm afraid is yet another dis to Eric Stoltz. Why, Cameron Crowe's not even putting him in his movies anymore! Mo recognizability, mo problems, am I right? Also, when we find out why the movie's called The Squid and The Whale, it makes Margot at the Wedding seem like a much more regal title. More French, anyhow. And as the Jeff Dainels character might observe, it's a bit of a slap in the face to all the socially conscious films of the '60s like, say, Cool Hand Luke, where the title has a sunnier origin story. Coming from the character it comes from in the instant case, it's not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but rather a dosage of castor oil without the healing properties.
Now I swore I wasn't going to fall into the trap of '80s nostalgia, but I'm afraid they got me. I mean, c'mon! Anyone my age with my experience knows what I'm talking about! The film supposedly takes place in 1986, yet the guy's listening to Bryan Adams' song Run to You, which was more like 1983! It wasn't in Sixteen Candles after all, right?... scratch that, I mean Pretty in Pink. I rest my case.
Well, I can nitpick all I want, but even I had to begrudgingly agree that the movie had something. Like a car accident, I just couldn't turn away. What's that rule, and who said it? A star is someone you can't take your eyes off of. Well, during the sexual parts I was able to avert my gaze a little bit, but I have a feeling that they were riding the coattails of Happiness a li'l bit.
The only half-ass sympathetic character in the piece is Laura Linney, or maybe that just says more about me. She and Frank show the most life here. All of Walt's friends seem to be monotone like him. He didn't have enough bullies picking on him here, that's what was missing. For some reason, I thought Jeff Daniels was doing an impression of Joel Coen. I've seen enough documentary footage of Joel to get that; again, probably just me. Besides, Joel's got all that icky populist appeal. No thank you! Not for my man Baumbach!
I've read that Squid is autobiographical, as probably most of Baumbach's stuff is, and I must confess I was almost tempted to go out and rent the movies that his dad appeared in! I think they were Kicking and Screaming (1995) and Mr. Jealousy. But then I remembered that I'm broke and can barely afford my current living situation, so better lay off the indulgences for now. Besides, knowing that character, he probably didn't care for the movies he appeared in all that much.
So, to sum up, the chronicle of upper middle class white people, just trying to find a parking spot in their little corner of New York. See? They know suffering, too! Besides, homeless people are used to being homeless, and they should appreciate how sweet they have it. They don't know the hardship of being just on the brink of success, living in that wide middle band of obscurity between fame and poverty. Mo talent, mo problems. Reminds me: you know a movie's a little goofed up when the blackest guy in it is William Baldwin. I'm just sayin'.
p.s. I see that Wes Anderson was one of the film's producers, and the cameraman was Anderson's faithful DP, Robert Yeoman. Sounds about right.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan