In a short running time, The Squid and the Whale examines the effect of divorce with humanity and sharp wit. This metaphorical tale locates the bruises in everyday life without trying to create any fresh dramatic form.
Noah Baumbach, co-writer of Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, makes the Park Slope section of Brooklyn resonate from the discordant relationship of his parents back in the 1980's.
A stand-out Jeff Daniels, also ably filling out the cast of George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, is troubled writer Bernard floundering to find new success.
Laura Linney, a scrappy, rather savvy attorney in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, is Joan, Bernard's wife, who is beginning to have her writing talents recognized.
Jesse Eisenberg erases the memory of Cursed as their son Walt, whom Baumbach modeled after himself. The 16-year-old definitely uses a Pink Floyd tune for personal gain, and younger brother Frank (Owen Kline, son of Kevin) is achieving his potential in a more private, messed-up way.
Baumbach ignites a spark to a tired subject from a title that comes from an exhibit at the Museum of Art. Joan will have sex with a tennis pro (William Baldwin) and Bernard will have a student (Anna Paquin of X2) move in with him. The script has a caustic, if poignant kick in the way Walt and Frank deal with emotional instability of their intellectual parents.
This unsentimental account of a family in crisis allows the actors to give meaningful performances without jerking a viewer's emotions. Through, Eisenberg and, especially Daniels, Baumbach proves insightful in recognizing one's vulnerabilities and enervating the egoism associated with it.