Thursday, March 23, 2006
This uncomfortable film nails divorce and joint custody as well as any I've seen. Jeff Daniels is an emotionally distant and self-described intellectual whose literary star has faded, Laura Linney plays his cheating self-described intellectual wife whose star is on the rise. Their two sons bear the scars: Walt, the oldest, plays Pink Floyd's "Hey You" at the high school talent show and says he wrote it, winning $100. He parrots his father's opinions about works he's never read, and uses lines about Kafka and Fitzgerald to pick up his girlfriend, who actually reads the books. The younger son Frank jerks off at school and wipes his spooge on lockers and library books. One gets the sense that these emotionally disturbed kids were headed toward crisis states before their parents separated.
I thought the movie was often hilarious; I've got enough distance now from my own miserable childhood to see how funny people are when things fall apart. But mostly The Squid and the Whale is painful because each character is a shallow egotist without true empathy. No one recognizes his or her own culpability, no one is accountable. At least Walt has a chance at redemption. The cast is superb.