Cap’n Boysenberry and I watched The Squid and the Whale last night on the recommendation of someone who shall remain nameless. Luckily, the film was mercifully short. Thank God. For all of the trendiness of the film and the critical acclaim it received, I was hoping for something slightly more impressive. Compelling, even. A film which spoke to my heartspace.
Several things about the film bothered me. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was from New York, because there were a number of New York references made that I didn’t get and wasn’t interested in getting. For example, there’s a scene where subway stops are used to convey distance as characters drive past them. Does the sequence “Embarcadero,” “Montgomery,” “Powell,” “Civic Center,” “16th St. Mission,” “24th St. Mission,” “Glen Park” mean anything to you? If it does, you must be from San Francisco. Anywhere else in the world, that series of subway stops would be meaningless. You wouldn’t understand the neighborhoods and the distance it conveyed. That’s how I felt in the subway stop scene. I’m sure New Yorkers saw it and said “ahh, yes,” but I was left completely mystified.
The characters kept making comments about various neighborhoods in New York, and other such things, and I was left with a feeling of complete disorientation. The entire film felt like a long private discussion which I wasn’t privy to at all. The father was selfish prat, the mother was a fool, the older child was a sheep, and the younger child was a beer drinking foul mouthed little pervert. The movie is supposed to be autobiographical, which makes it a pretty unflinching look at all of the people involved. But it was not “touching,” “refreshing,” or anything else that the reviews claimed it was.
The film also seemed weak in many ways. As Cap’n Boysenberry pointed out, the film relied heavily on music to carry boring or dull scenes. This is a common ploy, but it is still irritating. Why not skip the scene altogether if it is boring, or make it interesting if you think it is important? There were many awkward, stilted scenes in the film which felt very forced and unnatural. Perhaps that was the point of the film: divorce is unnatural, but it did not feel that way.
Ostensibly, the movie is about a coming of age. We start with a family of four which undergoes separation and change. Hey, these things happen. It is what happens to the family along the way that is supposed to be interesting. But the story was not terribly compelling. I was not gripped with interest to know what would happen to the characters, because I knew what would happen: the same thing that happens in any family which undergoes divorce. I suppose if you were not from a broken home, the film might hold some interest for you.
The movie was not one which showed me the commonalities I had with the characters, or one which made me feel sympathy with the characters. It seemed more like a long and not terribly interesting, rambling statement about nothing in particular (somethat like this post). Maybe I just didn’t get it because my parents separated when I was fairly young, so I have already experienced everything in this film. Nothing new here, kids, move along.
I might recommend The Squid and the Whale to people who like to watch wierd movies and then be pompous about them. It is the kind of movie where you can say “what, you don’t get it? Well. I am not going to tell you, then, because you are unworthy of indie cinema.” I would also recommend it to people who follow everything they are told, like puppies. “Check it out,” I would say. “It is a little quirky, but I think you might enjoy it.” Filled with shame at their unworthiness, I am sure the person would never tell me they didn’t much fancy the movie.
Of course, I would also recommend Asses of Fire III for much the same reason, so what do I know. Perhaps I am just a dense philistine who does not comprehend the fillet of the world.