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Movie Review

The Squid and the Whale (16)

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1 of 1 A small gem of a film
A small gem of a film

Directed by Noah Baumbach, staring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin and William Baldwin.

For those who like their comedy a little darker and with character, 'The Squid and the Whale' arrives after a quiet start to 2006. Oscar-nominated for his screenplay, director Noah Baumbach takes an intimate look at the breakdown of a family, based on his own turbulent adolescence. 

The patriarch (Daniels) of an eccentric Brooklyn family claims to once have been a great novelist, but he has settled into a teaching job. When his wife (Linney) discovers a writing talent of her own, his jealousy of her newfound success and insecurity over his own lack of recognition splits the family. 

The change in power is felt strongest by the couple's two adolescent sons (Eisenberg and Kline). When their parents enter into an acrimonious divorce, the children are left to form a new relationship with both parents. 14-year-old Walt sides with the father he adores, while the younger son, Frank, becomes disruptive in school and discovers the onset of puberty. 

Their struggle becomes harder when Linney's character begins dating her younger son's tennis coach (Baldwin) and Daniels' character has an affair with the student (Paquin) his older son is pursuing. Both children are lost within this new fractured family and their vulnerability is exploited by their warring parents. 

This story takes no sides - showing the flaws of each character - but it is through the honest depiction that we grow to like these people.

With only one nomination at this year's Oscars you can see that the performances of both Daniels and Linney were shamefully overlooked. The one area where the film struggles is in some of the graphic dialogue its younger characters are asked to deliver. They bring an incredible maturity to their performances that will shock some of the audience.

A cracking soundtrack featuring Lou Reed and the Cars express the characters' emotions and the lead track 'Hey You' by Dean Wareham is the standout number. 

'The Squid and the Whale' is an extremely humane, and often hilarious, portrait of a crumbling family. Baumbach has crafted this tale out of real love and suffering yet manages to avoid sentimentality. A small gem of a film that should not be missed.  

Seán Kavanagh

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