Friday, March 24, 2006

Seen Squid and the Whale?

I finally saw this yesterday and since Noah Baumbach doesn't read my blog, I can say 'huh?' without offending the Oscar nominated screenwriter. Watching films for each of the Oscar nomiated screenplays seemed like a good exercise in improving my craft but I am genuinely puzzled. Could somebody who has seen it please tell me what makes this a story? IMDB says:

Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980's.
Okay, I can relate to that. I didn't grow up in an Ozzie and Harriet house either, but --

(1) Where is the plot? - It's a ringside seat to the daily struggles of a dysfunctional and broken family but what is the plot? It's like "Hey, take a look at these screwed up people. Mess, aren't they? Okay, good night everyone."

(2) Where are the arcs? - Each character is messed up before, during, and after the divorce. Divorce is not the cause of the dysfunction.

(3) Who are the protags and who are the antags? - Is the "divorce" supposed to be the antagonist here? Is each of the four members of the family a protag? Who am I pulling for and where are my "hurray!" moments?

(4) What about the ending? - Nothing is resolved. Was finally seeing the Squid and the Whale supposed to indicate that the older boy had broken free of his mother? Didn't need her?

I'm not dissing this film and yeah, parts of it are icky but I have a strong stomach. The film doesn't offend my conservative values or shatter my sheltered life. (HA! As if. Baumbach doesn't want to play "can you top this?" with me) I am simply trying to understand what makes The Squid and the Whale a story and an Oscar caliber screenplay.

Thoughts? Illuminations? Teach me, people!


Patrick J. Rodio said...

I just saw it the other night too (maybe at the same time! Like a date!).

I liked it, but felt it was not resolved (and it was short, so he had plenty of time to work with).

I certainly would have added more to the ending, but it's not my story, it's his, and maybe things changed for that kid when he was able to see the squid/whale by himself, without fear. Overcoming fear.

Crap, I don't know. He had a pretty pretentious, dickish family, and he followed right along with them.

I don't mind not seing the typical arcs, although I do thing the Father changed slightly by the end, maybe, but I would have liked a longer act 3.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

A date? Then, where was my popcorn?

taZ said...

Who knows? Maybe the original screenplay wasn't like that at all...?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Bob has some comments on this. Don't know how to post links in a comment section. Sorry.

David Anaxagoras said...

I'm still waiting for an explanation as to what was the significance of the cashew coming out of Frank's nose at THAT particular moment. It SEEMED weighty and symbolic, didn't it?

Just like that grand shot of the older son standing before the Squid and the Whale in the end. Heavy, man. So full of meaning. Granted, we have no idea *what* it means, but it must mean *something*. Because this is ART! This is an Independent Movie! You can tell it's Independent and Important because of the way the camera shakes and how it takes place in the past for no particular reason.

Alicia said...

This is one that I actually went to the theatre, by myself, to see. I think Noah Baumbach is a skilled writer/director, not genius, but definitely better than some. I see this almost like Billy Kramer's retelling of Kramer vs. Kramer, 30 years later. There is a little more ugliness to this portrayal of divorce because it is written by a writer from a broken home whose wrestled with this story for 20 some-odd years.

While conventional structure is not necessarily applied throughout, I think it is a great character study showing how children emulate their parents and their qualities/behavior, both good and bad. I think that divorce, in this film, is the inciting incident that gives each character the opportunity to be the antagonist and the protagonist, depending on who they are dealing with (the parent, the spouse, the lover, the sibling or themselves). It is an interesting study of how passive-aggressive people behave and how people that suppress feelings eventually erupt and act out (e.g. confrontation with parents, objectifying women, public masturbation, drinking, etc.).

Bottom line: divorce is ugly and it affects everyone.