Movie #124 2020: The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Did I mention that Noah Baumbach is becoming one of my favourite directors? Yes, yes I did. Thankfully, The Squid & the Whale only solidified that opinion.

As usual, Baumbach draws from his own experiences here. This is a semi-autobiographical movie – which I assume means that parts were added for dramatic effect – about two kids who are dealing with their parents divorce.

Set in the eighties, what’s weird for me is how easily I was sucked in to this film. Why is that weird? Well, I don’t really relate to any of the events in this movie. My parents are still happily married to this day, I’ve never had to choose my mother over my father, and I’ve never witnessed my dad kiss a woman my age. Thank God. It seems as though this movie has a universal relatability in how human its story is. It is quintessential Baumbach to take such a mundane, awful life experience, and document it as well as he does in The Squid & the Whale. I recognise that it is so obvious and blah and movie critic of me to love him this much, but his films are truly remarkable, you can’t deny that.

There is style on top of this film too. Its grainy filter serves as a teleport back to the 1980s, and it makes the viewer feel as though it was actually filmed back then, only heightening the sense of realism. It is simply a perfect editing choice.

The annoying fact is, there’s something special about Baumbach’s repertoire that is just so hard to pinpoint outside of what I’ve just spoken about. There are so many hyper-realised movies with decidedly un-showy tones, but what he does is magic. Between this, The Meyerowitz Stories, and Marriage Story in particular, he paints a completely whole picture of the characters in his movies, and each and every one of them has some sort of simple yet relatable theme to it, which easily appeals to the humanity inside everybody. It’s getting to the point now that his movies are just so much more interesting to watch that anyone else’s of the same ilk. And that is kind of pissing me off because I can’t figure out why that is in a more comprehensive manner. Damn you, Noah!

At a perfect run time, The Squid & the Whale has very little to dislike. However, there’s a scene (and a few hints towards it throughout) in which we discover (SPOILERS!) that the main protagonist’s father is involved in a taboo liaison with one of his classmates. Despite Anna Paquin being completely of age during filming (I believe she was around 22 years old), there’s something unsettling about watching her kiss Jeff Daniels, who is almost 30 years her senior. It’s probably more likely that this was the intended affect, and we are indeed meant to squirm at the image of it, but it was just not for me, thank you very much.

Regardless, a fleeting sexual scene between two characters is a small price to pay for a film that is made as masterfully as this one. It’s probably not my favourite Baumbach movie thus far, but it is so good that I can’t not give it full marks yet again.

Barring the fact that I need to rewatch Frances Ha, which I haven’t watched for 8 years now, this is definitely third on my Baumbach ranking (with Marriage Story and The Meyerowitz Stories coming in at first and second respectively).

The Squid & the Whale is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

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