The Squid and The Whale
There's no easy way to talk about this movie. The easiest comparisons are Allen's Interiors and Bergman's relationship films, but Baumbach skirts both influences carefully, although even in a charitable frame of mind the decision to name the family the Berkmans seems a more than just a little precocious. A tiny movie about minor histories, plagiarisms, charlatans and philistines, The Squid and The Whale deals with the matter of divorce, set in late '80's Park Slope, Brooklyn.
A literary family, the Berkmans have the sort of hangups most overwraught intellectuals just aspire to. Bernard Berkman's fascination with perfection verges on Grand's insistence on a "hats off" salute in The Plague. Jeff Daniels captures the role of the overweening father figure perfectly, never flinching from a cruel, unsubstantiated judgement or hiding his preening vulnerability. Laura Linney's emotional range as his wife is stunning. Both children manage their pubescent and post angst in ways that I found intriguing and open-ended. Baumbach has succeeded in making a film that celebrates and derides the coming-of-age story without devolving into Solondz' suburbanite drivel or some triumphal Ridley Scott "masterpiece"; the realism is real and the whimsy is not, at least not in the tangible sense of which the characters are aware.
Unlike writing partner/producer Wes Anderson, Baumbach doesn't get caught up in denotative dream time - there's no difficult Christmas or a forgotten birthday to speak of. It's a strangely realistic venture of parent-teacher conferences, tennis lessons and bad dates. It'll have you singing songs of innocence and experience before you know it.