Dir: Noah Baumbach. US.2005. 81mins.
Noah Baumbach, afilm-maker who made a splashy debut with three pictures in the mid-90s (Kicking& Screaming, Mr Jealousy, Highball), returns with astingingly honest, admirably unsentimental autobiographical portrait of hisparents' divorce which marks him out - again - as one of the smartest young USfilm-makers around today.
One of the most witty andmature films in American dramatic competition at the recent Sundance FilmFestival, where it won prizes for direction and screenplay, The Squid AndThe Whale will build word-of-mouth on the festival circuit and in the mediathroughout the year. Once its domestic distribution deal is finalised, itshould be a solid performer with specialized audiences towards year-end. Itsbox office diagnosis can only be boosted by the likelihood of awardsconsideration, certainly for screenplay and Jeff Daniels' lead performance, ifnothing else.
Upscale internationalaudiences will respond with enthusiasm to Baumbach's story, which is asuniversal as divorce itself.
At 81 minutes, it lacks acertain heft which might prevent it leaving the arthouse ghetto, but its shortrunning time shouldn't be taken as indication that the film is slight. Baumbachhas an intensely precise focus and the film is tightly constructed and entirelywithout excess flab.
The story is set in 1986 inNew York. Bernard Berkman (a bearded Daniels), an arrogant novelist whosecareer is on the slide and his wife Joan (Linney), a writer whose career is onthe rise, separate, leaving their two sons, one 16 and one 12 in turmoil.
Joan retains the house inBrooklyn while Bernard moves to Manhattan and they reach an agreement to sharecustody of the boys (and the cat) on an equal basis.
The elder son Walt(Eisenberg) sides with his father, who has infected him with a pomposity andcallousness that affects his first relationship with a girl (Feiffer). Theyoungest son Frank (Kline, the son of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates)sides with their mother. Both behave badly as a result of the divorce - Waltfalsely winning a school contest by claiming he wrote a Pink Floyd song, Frankcaught at school for smearing his sperm on library books and school lockers.
Joan, who has turned toother men during her marriage, begins an affair with Frank's kind-heartedairhead tennis teacher (Baldwin), while Bernard begins having sex with aprovocative student (Paquin) who has finagled her way into his guest bedroom -much to the consternation of Walt who has a crush on her.
The title refers to anexhibit in New York City which Walt has seen with his mother as a child and therecollection of which finally shakes him out of his absurd loyalty to hisfather.
Baumbach, who, one assumes,is Walt in the film, recreates the late 80s time period with scrupulousattention to the details of the time and the atmospheric, naturalisticcamerawork of Robert D Yeoman, who has worked extensively with producer WesAnderson. He gleans superb performances from all four family members. Danielshas never been more convincing as the self-important and self-absorbed Bernard,Linney is subtle and controlled as Joan, while Eisenberg and Kline depict theveiled anguish of the boys with humour and pathos.
Prod cos: American Empirical Pictures, Peter Newman/InteralProductions, Original Media, Ambush Entertainment, Andrew Lauren Productions
Int'l sales: Hanway Films
Exec prods: Reverge Anselmo,Miranda Bailey, Greg Johnson, Andrew Lauren
Prods: Wes Anderson, PeterNewman, Charlie Corwin, Clara Markowicz
Cine: Robert D YeomanProd des:Anne Ross
Ed: Tim Streeto
Mus: Dean Wareham, Britta Philips
Main cast: Jeff Daniels, LauraLinney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin, HalleyFeiffer