Girls Film Night – The Squid and the Whale

I’ve been meaning to post this film review for a short while as we watched this a couple of weeks back. Anyway, The Squid and The Whale was part of a double Girls Film Night and the trailer can be seen here.


The film stars Owen Kline as Frank Berkman, Jesse Eisenberg as his elder brother Walt, Jeff Daniels as their father Bernard, and Laura Linney as their mother Joan. It deals with the breakdown of the marriage between Bernard and Joan and the effect this has on the family and the children (mainly young Frank), and is apparently based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother (Noah wrote and directed this film).

Right from the start it is totally apparent the marriage between Bernard and Joan is in trouble. She has such a face on her, like she wants to be anywhere, literally, than with her husband. Having her eyes poked with glowing skewers would be preferential to spending one more minute with that man kind of a look. Quite near the start of the movie the family sit down and the children are informed of the break up of their parents. They agree to share custody of the children, though throughout the film this gets tampered with, though to be fair that’s life. It doesn’t follow a set pattern or schedule. Things happen and you need to adapt.


Walt, the elder brother, takes to ‘writing’ a song that is actually a copy of a Pink Floyd song, Hey You, and performs it at school winning a competition. He is quickly rumbled and ends up seeing a school shrink. Along the way he takes up with a nice young girl but then breaks up with her for being a bit of a jerk, something he later regrets.


Frank takes to experimenting with alcohol, running away, and wiping his semen on books and a locker at school. Pretty gross but then his world is falling apart.


Bernard had a book published some years ago and has been struggling ever since to repeat his earlier brilliance. Meanwhile his wife, who it turns out had an affair during her marriage and takes up with Frank’s tennis coach (played by William Baldwin) post split from Bernard, is at the start of a new writing career. She gets her work published in The New Yorker, much to Bernard’s chagrin. At one point he is in the family home admiring his own books on the shelf; harking back to his glory days.

Bernard has a brief fling with a student, played by a very young looking Anna Paquin (not a vampire in sight) and takes up residence in a slightly ramshackle house near the park, while Joan stays in the family home (it’s gorgeous, like a Georgian townhouse which I love).


There are funny parts in the film. Bernard is constantly bemoaning his parking space; every time he goes out in the car he says he will lose his space. He plays his role totally deadpan, even telling his son he isn’t a philistine (he says it is someone who doesn’t like books. Frank says ‘I’m a Philistine.’ ‘No you’re not’ says Bernard. ‘I don’t like books’ says Frank. Bernard just stares at him.


The young actors are brilliant in this film and totally steal the limelight. It’s worth watching, and I hope the trailer does it justice. I found the end a little abrupt but sometimes that’s actually ok. It leaves you wondering what happens next. You can take it wherever you want, but one place won’t be with Bernard and Joan reconciling. That bridge is definitely burnt.

For a score, I would give this a 7 out of 10.