The Squid and the Whale: Criterion Collection
January 10, 2017
In writer/director Noah Baumbach’s career there is a demarcation line as represented by The Squid and the Whale (2005). There are the films he did before it that are more conventional romantic comedies that owe a lot of Woody Allen and the ones that came after it where he found his own cinematic voice – a new way of telling stories that were truer to his self. This has resulted in a career of thoughtful, funny and poignant films and it all started with The Squid.
The film tells a semi-autobiographical tale of Baumbach’s childhood, charting the bitter divorce of his parents. Bernard (Daniels) – the father – is a writer and an arrogant prick that thinks he’s better than everyone else even though some of the film’s comedic moments clearly demonstrate that he’s not. Joan (Linney) – the mother – has grown tired of living in his shadow and is trying to be a writer herself. They have two sons that clearly reflect them. Walt (Eisenberg) is a passive aggressive type that idolizes his father and emulates his behavior. Frank (Kline) is much more sensitive, like his mother, and is taking their divorce very hard. Each child quickly takes sides with the parent they prefer.
The dynamic between the deeply dysfunctional family members is at once hilariously observed and, at times, uncomfortably real. The cast is uniformly excellent and not afraid to play flawed characters especially Jeff Daniels whose not-so passive aggressive sniping goes from amusing to hurtful on a dime, and Jesse Eisenberg who lashes out at his mother out of the pain he experiences from their divorce. For all of their flaws, Baumbach shows what motivates them to do what they do and this results in some darkly humorous moments. This is a coming-of-age story seen mostly from the perspective of the two children, played well by Eisenberg and Owen Kline.
The Squid and the Whale is a deeply personal film – a creative watershed moment for Baumbach – that is very funny and also filled with awkwardly uncomfortable moments, much like real life.
The Squid and the Whale was never the most striking film visually but this new transfer preserves the look that Baumbach was going for and this is easily the best the film has ever looked.
There is an interview with Baumbach and he sees the film as going back and getting revenge on his childhood. He talks about the origins of the project and why it took him so long to make it after Mr. Jealousy (1997). Originally, the story was to be told in flashbacks and then he realized that the flashbacks were the story. He also talks about how important it was in his development as a filmmaker.
“Revisiting The Squid and the Whale” features interviews with cast members Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline and Laura Linney. They all talk about how they got involved in the project and how much they loved the screenplay. Kline talks about how autobiographical the film was for Baumbach right down to the tiniest details on the set. All of them recount experiences making it.
Jeff Daniels is interviewed and he talks about how The Squid started a good run of films for him. The first thing that struck him about the script was how funny it was and no one had told Baumbach that. He talks about his approach to the character and how he even met the director’s father, going so far as to wear some of his clothes in the film.
Also included is audition footage from five scenes. We see the cast running through their lines.
Baumbach interviews musicians Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips of Luna, who composed the score. They also did the score for Mr. Jealousy and talk about their approach to the music in this film.
“Behind The Squid and the Whale” is a making of featurette done at the time of the film’s release. The cast talk about their characters.
Finally, there are two trailers.