Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ins & Outs

Movies in Review

Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, and Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, were two of the most critically praised semi-independent films of 2005. Both movies deal with relationships, their beginnings & endings, their necessity and their difficulty. Let's start with the endings.

Baumbach, an associate of director Wes Anderson, has made a film drawn in part from his own childhood experiences. The Squid and the Whale is a metaphor for the strange and hostel divorce of a pair from the New York literary set. Set in 1986 the film stars Jeff Daniels as Bernard Berkman, a has been novelist and professor of creative writing who is separating from his wife of 17 years Joan Berkman (Laura Linny), herself an author whose own career has just started its rise. Caught in the separation between their pompous and superior father, and well meaning but adulterous mother are Walt (Jesse Eisnberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) Berkman. During the coarse of the divorce both children come to cling to and idealize one of their parents, for Walt that's his 'brilliant' father, for Frank his caring mother. Both children act out in their own ways, with Franks (remember he's about 12) drinking and sexual fixations being particularly disturbing.

The relationship in the film that I found most fascinating however was Bernard and Walt's. I can understand how Walt came to worship the man, his embodiment of a supposedly liberated and cuttingly honest kind of intellectuailsm, holds a strange attraction to certain types of people. Yet despite his pretension, Bernard is by far the needyest and most self obsessed of all the characters in the film, as he tries to mold his oldest son to live the kind of life his bitterness has lead him to wish he'd lived in hindsight. When a young graduate student (Anna Paquin) moves into an empty room at Bernards new home, the mutual attraction father and son share for the girl leads to an odd, uneasy, and unspoken competition between the two, as well as Walt's break up with his girlfriend (Halley Feiffer). The Squid and the Whale does a real good job of putting you into these characters world, and at about 80 minutes runs at a perfect pace.

Star Miranda July's directorial debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, tells a number of interconnected stories about people desperately looking for love, or perhaps more specificly companionship. July (who looks and sounds remarkably like Rachel Griffith) is Christine Jesperson, an aspiring amateur video artist, who works providing transportation services to the elderly. John Hawkes is Richard Swersey, a shoe salesman with two kids (Miles Thompson and Brandon Ratclift) whose wife is divorcing him. The two meet by chance at the department store where Richard works, and while Christine quite quickly decides she'd like to start a new relationship, Richard is having a hard time letting go of his old one. The movie feels like a slightly more upbeat version of Welcome to the Dolls House, or a sort of post modern take on Marty by way of Crash . The secondary plots, which involve Richards children, the young girl next door, an elderly couple, another shoe salesman, two teenage girls, and the director of a local art museum, mostly come together in the end although to differing degrees of effectiveness. However the fine line of tastefulness is so often walked in the film that its intended sense of joy feels a little muted. I didn't feel like the movie quite reached its full promise, though it did get close.


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