Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Squids and Whales

Wasn’t Jeff Daniels – and wasn’t Laura Linney – painfully good in The Squid and the Whale? Writers I admire, Johanna Schneller for one, absolutely rave about Daniels as an actor and make me want to see more of what he has done. (Possibly even to the extent of seeing Dumb and Dumber. Maybe. But a quick memory-serving surf to the movie site  just reminded me that he was also in one of my favourite movies, The Purple Rose of Cairo. Cool. I’d watch that again.)

As the writer Bernard Berkman, Daniels plays a character who is incredibly self-centred, so CriticalCensorious, such a bloody imperious phoney that it’s no wonder his best work is all in the past. He can’t even take on a decent affair (we won’t count the lusting acolyte out to conquer his cojones), which is certainly not his wife Joan’s problem. (Note to self: see more Linney, too.) She is as expressive as he is constipated about anything other than pseudo-artistic Pronouncements. Stuff just comes out: accusations, indiscrete comments to children, new men, New Yorker-quality stories.

For Noah Baumbach, this was a first film as screenwriter and director, and he pulled it off. The writing is clever and comically acidic. As painful as the episodes are, the tone is light enough that we can laugh at the pretensions and adjustments and attempts to cope. “Joint custody blows!” a throwaway line by a 10-second character, is at the thematic heart of the film. Divorce blows, say I, though it’s hard to see how this pair could’ve stayed together without similarly stunning costs to all. Good film. Saw it with son Dave, 17, child of divorce and shockingly smart about film. Official approval from him, too.