The Squid and the Whale

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Speaking of postirony, and I’m sure you were, I went to a press screening of Noah Baumbach’s new movie The Squid and the Whale. It’s supposedly based on his childhood experiences of his parents’ divorce in Park Slope, Brooklyn in the 1980s and in a lot of ways it perfectly deploys a thousand points of hipster light: the Park Slope locale; a Pink Floydish soundtrack; spot-on 80s fashion; tennis; allusions to postmodern fiction; more quirky characters than you can shake a stick at.

The most striking thing about TSatW is its intensely (Wes) Andersonian aesthetic sensibility and its peculiar sense of cinematic timing (the way it synchopates its scenes, frames its actors, synthesizes music and action). It seemed to me like nothing short of a realist version of The Royal Tennenbaums; feelings of deja vu became quite overwhelming at times and I thought God, this guy is such an Anderson knock-off. To my great surprise, though, I discovered (upon doing a bit more research) that Baumbach actually co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. He’s not like Wes Anderson; he is Wes Anderson, or a part of the aggregate constructed persona that gets the credit for the hard work which goes into making one of his movies.

TSatW implies, like most Wes Anderson films and most works of hipster art, that under its shiny glaze of sophisticated irony beats a sappy twenty-chambered heart brimming full with deeply sincere personal conflict and tangled but earnest emotional depths which only art can plumb. Right. If we were to diagram the narrative arc movie that diagram would look something like this: Quirky-Clever-Quirky-Pink Floyd-Sad-Quirky-Funny-Gross-Quirkysad-EPIPHANY-Credits

We’ve seen this postironic metafilm before: I [heart] Huckabees, Garden State, Eternal Sunshine, Rushmore come to mind. This, it seems to me, is a significant new film genre and every time I see a new one I get that sense that I’ve seen it before–it’s the same feeling I get reading David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, and the whole lot of young-and-up-and-coming working-out-of-Park-Slope tennis-obsessed preppy-but-guilty-about-it Kafka-lovers.

If this sounds like a negative review then I should mention I fall for these movies every time.