THE SQUID AND THE WHALE meets THE WEATHER MAN
Okay first of all I gotta ask, why does every movie lately gotta be about a nasty divorce, somebody’s dad dying, or both? I guess that’s just what happens when the sky turns grey and the leaves start falling off the trees, all the sudden you get all these depressing movies about how either you or your dad is a novelist and you fucked up everything with your wife and kids and you want to fix your marriage but that’s completely delusional, your wife has a new guy and she hates you because you’re an asshole and she can do better. (that’s what both of these are about.)
Which brings me to my second comment, you better look up what these movies are about before you see them because the titles are misleading. I know, how could you go wrong with a movie called SQUID VS. WHALE, but unfortunately it turns out that title is some kind of a metaphor or something. Which answers my question of how this got a theatrical release. There is no squid vs. whale fight, at least not a living squid and whale. And the dead ones that fight is only in a museum and only in the very end.
And THE WEATHER MAN is the opposite problem, the title actually is literal. It’s about a tv weather man, and not a tv weather man who secretly works for the CIA or a tv weatherman thrust into extraordinary circumstances or anything like that. Just a regular tv weather man, thrust into only the most ordinary circumstances. So if you’re thinking what I was thinking, you better lower your expectations. It really has very little in common with THE GLIMMER MAN.
Nic Cage (FACE/OFF) plays the weather man and although divorce and weather are generally not as interesting as the international weapons trade, this is a better movie than his last one LORD OF WAR. The directionist is Gore Verbinski, who specializes in pulling shit off that you would think nobody should even try (an American remake of RINGU, a movie based on the Pirates of the Caribean ride at Disneyland). This movie must be his reward for pulling shit off, the movie the studios humor him with to keep him in their pocket. Shit, put Nic Cage in it it will probaly make a few bucks on cable. Who knows, maybe some asshole will confuse it with THE GLIMMER MAN.
This is one of them internal dialogue movies, the whole thing narrated by the main character, whining about his problems. But unlike LORD OF WAR, where he just kept telling you the story instead of showing it and you wanted him to shut the hell up, this one puts you into his mind, more like a book. There’s even a part where he’s walking to pick up some take out and you hear his thoughts as he wanders from thinking about not forgetting the tartar sauce to thinking about how he likes to eat pussy but other men don’t or do they, maybe that’s only black guys, he’s not sure.
Of course these more important topics cause him to forget the tartar sauce, and this leads to the fight that ends his marriage. The whole movie is about a depressing period in his life when his dad is dying, his daughter is getting picked on at school, his son is getting molested by some prick from Alley McBeal, and he is starting to realize that he doesn’t like being a weather man. The only good thing in his life is that he might get a high paying job on a national morning show, but even that is with Bryant Gumbel. There’s a short but important scene where he talks to Bryant Gumbel for a second and it feels like he’s meeting Elvis or something. And I think he realized how pathetic that was before I did.
What I liked about this movie is that it really doesn’t feel like any other movie and it doesn’t follow the paths you expect a studio movie to. He tries to bond with his kids, and he doesn’t do a very good job, but it seems like he’s really trying. It seems much more genuine than some piece of shit where Steve Martin or Robin Williams or Jim Carrey or somebody keeps fucking up but they really love their kid and then after a bunch of humiliating misunderstandings and coincidences they come through with some grand gesture in the end and prove that they are a great father and at some point somebody falls down in a big puddle of paint, animal shit, or pie. This is not like that at all although people are always throwing food at him.
At the same time he’s trying to bond with his dad, Michael Caine (ON DEADLY GROUND). He’s always living in his dad’s shadow because the guy is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. He’s afraid of disappointing his dad but seems to find a new way to do it every day. The thing is, in this type of story Michael Caine would usually be an asshole, or if not, a saint. Or an asshole until the very end and then he’s a saint. But here he’s something different, he’s kind of cold but genuinely caring and wise.
And then there are just little odd touches here and there that you don’t expect. For example I think this is one of only a handful of movies where a dad finds out that the kids at school call his daughter “camel toe” and he has to figure out how to get her not to wear tight pants without hurting her feelings. I mean you see alot of movies where a guy has to shoot a bad guy without hitting the hostage but you don’t see too many where he has to get his daughter to not be called camel toe without her finding out why she is called camel toe.
In THE WEATHER MAN the most likable character dies. Nobody bites it in SQUID MEETS WHALE as far as I remember but somehow it is still way more of a bummer. In this one the novelist dad is also the fucked up divorcee, so it’s Nic Cage and Michael Caine rolled economically into one Jeff Daniels. Daniels (BLOOD WORK) plays a snobby prick writing professor who lives in New York and wrote some books a long time ago. He separates from his wife (Laura Linney, ABSOLUTE POWER) and the movie is mostly about how his two sons deal with it. The older son takes his side and the younger son takes his mom’s side and everybody fights.
The professor’s personality is very well constructed and reflected in his kids. His main interests are books (ranked either as interesting or “minor”) and tennis (he also ranks tennis players and only considers a few of them to be artists). He looks down on everybody outside of his family except his student, Anna Paquin, who he claims is a good writer but actually he just wants to get a BJ from her.
There’s a part where he is caught reading Fade to Black by Elmore Leonard and is clearly embarassed, explaining that he didn’t want to read “a good book” but that it’s “good for what it is.” Fuck this asshole.
The guy is such an elitist that even his own elite have to have most of their books dismissed. When his son says he’s reading A Tale of Two Cities in school, he says it’s “minor Dickens” and the kid decides not to even read it. You really see how full of shit this guy is when the kid sings a Pink Floyd song to him, pretending he wrote it himself, and the proud father says, “very dense, very interesting.” And then you realize why his son described a book that way earlier.
The way the dad acts pisses you off, but then the son goes and takes it to the next level, saying that his new girlfriend is “not gorgeous, but cute.” So the seeds are definitely sewn for SQUID AND THE WHALE: THE NEXT GENERATION.
Like in THE WEATHER MAN the characters are pretty three dimensional. The wife seems like the more reasonable one in the marriage but then you find out she was cheating on him for years. So there’s no bad guy. He’s the asshole, she’s the fuckup.
The skipper on this one is a guy called Noah Baumbach, he was co-writer of A LIFE AQUATIC with Wes Anderson, who is also the producer of this particular picture. Baumbach and Anderson share the same funny attention to detail and dark sense of humor, but somehow with Baumbach it comes off way less cute and alot more bitter. The quality of the movie is very high but I gotta admit I didn’t entirely enjoy myself. The Jeff Daniels character is a great character, but he’s such an asshole. What I like about a Wes Anderson picture is that he somehow brings a humanity to an asshole like Tenenbaum or the brat from Rushmore. To me the message of Royal Tenenbaums was that assholes are people too. It was heartwarming.
In Squid-on-Whale assholes are people too but they’re not people you ever want to be around. You maybe feel sorry for Jeff Daniels sometimes out of brotherhood for your fellow man but I can’t think of any redeeming qualities he has. The older son, you know he’s just taking after his dad, but he’s a prick too, parroting all the same dickhead bullshit his dad says, but even more full of shit because he hasn’t even read the books he’s talking about. Put it this way, the kid doesn’t get picked on in school because the audience would have to side with the bully. At least after he fucks over his nice girlfriend. The younger son, maybe he’s a little nicer but then he goes around jerking off and wiping semen on public property. I guess it’s a long story you sort of have to see the movie.
I mean don’t get me wrong, I like how uncomfortable this movie makes you, but I’m just saying maybe it would be better if there was a little more of a reward at the end. Which reminds me, this is one of those movies that ends really abruptly. Usually a movie gives off some kind of scent that lets you know the credits are ready to roll. But every once in a while you get something like this where the credits come up and you think oh shit, I wasn’t ready for that. In retrospect it makes sense that that was the last scene but I just wasn’t expecting it quite yet, I wish I could back up a little and know that it was the last scene. I think in the future if Baumbach is gonna pull this type of shit, he should put a little countdown somewhere in the corner or somewhere saying “movie ends in 15 seconds” or whatever so you can mentally prepare. Otherwise it’s like when you step off a curb and you think your foot’s about to hit the ground but you misjudged the height of the curb and you sort of stumble forward and your stomach feels like you’re going down a hill on a roller coaster. I think I just piled too many similes on top of each other but anyway fuck you Baumbach.
Actually that was way too harsh, I actually liked the movie, so I take it back. You see that Jeff Daniels? That’s called being nice and reasonable and apologizing for shit. That’s how it works bud, try it out. And by the way I was way ahead of you in BLOOD WORK man, you’re not as slick as you think you are.
A word of caution for parents and families: This isn’t Larry Clark or Whoriental Sex Academy but it’s not Walt Disney either. There’s some fucked up shit you gotta look out for, mainly the scene where the older son walks in on Jeff Daniels trying to get Anna Paquin to suck his dick. This scene will be very disturbing for anybody that is a big fan of FLY AWAY HOME, where Daniels was Anna Paquin’s father and they flew around and saved geese together. Not that I am one of those big fans necessarily. I mean I wouldn’t lie about it if I was but, you know, how can you really say for sure, there’s no way to really know something like that either way in my opinion.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.