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1.03.2006 

the admiral at the movies


i enjoyed a couple of movies over the long two week holiday bacchanal, but one seemed to stand out above the rest. with a wes anderson-esque feel (he did produce the movie), noah baumbach wrote a winner in the squid and the whale

review by: andrew wright
the stranger

"Kicking and Screaming, 1995's post-collegiate passion play, marked writer/director Noah Baumbach as a natural-born filmmaker, mixing comedy and drama in winningly erratic proportions. More's the pity, then, that after avoiding the sophomore slump (mostly) with 1997's Mr. Jealousy, the director disappeared from the scene, before reemerging last year as cowriter on pal Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic. The pairing was inspired, even if the film wasn't: Baumbach's hyperliterate dialogue style is similar to Anderson's, but he lacks the latter's increasingly twee, just-so affectations. In Baumbach's universe, the more high-minded the character, the more spectacularly messy his eventual implosion.

The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach's semi-autobiographical tale of a disintegrating Park Slope family unit in the '80s, is one of those rare films in which everything feels right, from period detail, to sympathetic yet unsentimental characterizations, to the way that family conversations can shift from funny to sad to terrifying. He's fully backed by his cast, including Laura Linney's free-spirited mom, Jesse Eisenberg's endearingly tight-assed poseur of an eldest son, and, especially, Jeff Daniels's defanged literary lion, one of the most complex—and pitiably self-aware—monsters in memory.

Throughout, Baumbach's unfussy, free-floating style echoes the personality-driven films of the '70s, yet with a uniquely personal bite. Although not without moments of wise-ass comedy (the youngest son's confused, increasingly pervy antics are underscored, hilariously, by snippets of Tangerine Dream's ultra-smooth Risky Business theme) there's an underlying witty melancholy that suggests a filmmaker fully locked into his groove. Whatever the rationale for his vanishing act, he's returned with something that feels suspiciously close to a masterpiece."

that's one fine film my brother!

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