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The Squid and the Whale
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a film for mature viewers, dealing with difficult emotional and moral themes. The family members are hurtful to one another, by deceit, betrayal, quarreling, and spitefulness. Characters smoke occasionally and drink frequently (an underage child drinks beer); one character vomits in a toilet. Most of the sexual content is narrated, as characters describe personal histories and desires, often with graphic language (slang for genitals, frequent uses of the f-word). Some characters engage in sexual activity (a college student kisses her teacher, young couple kisses, mom has affair with tennis pro, a shot from Blue Velvet shows breasts, a young boy masturbates on library books, wipes his semen on a locker, tries on a condom). Some minor violence, including brothers fighting, a wife slapping her estranged husband, an accidental bloody nose.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE focuses on a family's painful dissolution. Its primary point of view belongs to Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), who is mad -- at his divorcing parents Joan (Laura Linney) and dad Bernard (Jeff Daniels), and his 12-year-old brother Frank (Owen Kline). Walt also feels guilty about the breakup, as well as angsty and twingey because of his 16-year-old hormones. A once famous novelist, Bernard is now a frustrated creative writing professor who sucks up his female students' crushes like air. Bernard moves into a place nearby, and the boys move between apartments on alternate nights, but this does little to ease the transition. Frank is so undone by their bickering that he's soon discovered by school library staff masturbating onto books, the bizarre sign of love and value in his own family. Life becomes decidedly more difficult for the boys as they, and their parents, struggle with the familial upheaval.
Is it any good?
Noah Baumbach's reportedly autobiographical film is provocative and intelligent. It tracks Walt's slow evolution during the months surrounding the divorce, while keeping something of a distance, wry and observant.
Providing such detail concerning Walt's disintegrating psyche, the film is occasionally clunky (he sees a museum exhibit called "The Squid and the Whale," warring natural forces like his parents). For the most part, it is a harrowing but rewarding contemplation of the pain family members bring on each other.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ways this family deals with pain and betrayal: how do the academic parents miss their sons' emotional strains? How do the father's high standards put pressure on his children? How might the kids (eventually) come together in their efforts to survive their difficult situation?
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