the newsroom, series premiere
ball four, revisited

by request: the squid and the whale (noah baumbach, 2005)

Not exactly a request, this was #17 on Phil Dellio’s list when we did our Fave Fifty movies on Facebook, and I hadn’t seen it before.

It reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie, which makes sense … Anderson is the producer, and Baumbach has written the screenplays for a couple of Anderson’s movies (not what I’d call my favorite movies, either: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr. Fox). I preferred The Squid and the Whale (despite it’s too-cute title). The ending is abrupt … actually, it plays like they ran out of time and/or money. I’m not going to complain about a movie that takes care of business in 81 minutes (only 2 minutes longer than the standard, Booty Call), but Baumbach could have taken his characters farther.

I had a fairly intense reaction to the film, though, because Jeff Daniels’ character, a once-successful novelist who teaches at a college, reminded me of myself … and, it should go without saying, his character is not a pleasant fellow. He’s self-absorbed, he formulates opinions about everything (and even when he’s right, he comes across as shallow), he gets pissed off all the time, cusses like a sailor, complains about the lack of parking places, and treats his family like pawns in his own private chess game. It’s a great performance by Daniels, to be sure, but it hit a bit too close to home for me.

All of the acting is good: Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin. Baldwin’s character, a local tennis pro who talks like a surfer dude, is precious in that Wes Anderson way (maybe I should say “that Noah Baumbach way”), but Baldwin’s charming enough to pull it off. I was rarely irritated, the way I get with Anderson’s movies. And I understand that part of what Baumbach is showing us is the ways that people don’t say what they think, that we’re all rather passive-aggressive, but the film doesn’t always show us what it is that they are thinking, which leaves us confused. We don’t know these people enough to care about them in any depth.

Still, it’s hard to be too negative about a movie that uses “Street Hassle” to good effect. The film’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, and critics liked it (82/100 at Metacritic). It’s #59 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as The Anniversary Party, to which it is only marginally related but that’s a film I thought of while writing this (Baumbach was married to Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Owen Kline is the son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates). 7/10.

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