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The Film


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Last Viewed:2006.04.06
First/Last Reviewed:2006.04.08/2006.04.10

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ldh's review

Last week, i saw Dumb And Dumber (1994), again, and although i have never been a big fan of the film, i nevertheless had quite a few laughs. Jeff Daniels holds himself pretty well next to comic genius Jim Carey, but except for Woody Allen's classic Purple Rose Of Cairo, The (1985), it can't really be said that he had had many landmark roles. He has always been a light actor with somewhat minor roles over the years. With this movie, you come to regret that he hasn't been given more serious and meatier roles because he turned in quite a magnificent performance here.

In the mid 80's, in Brooklyn, the Berkman family is in trouble. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a great novelist that never was. After a brilliant PhD, he eventually settled into a teaching job and never accomplished anything much. When his wife Joan (Laura Linney), another literature PhD, starts getting published, the relationship is taking what seems like yet another wrong turn that will ultimately lead to their separation and divorce. Trapped in the middle are their two sons. Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) is a smart high-school senior and Frank (Owen Kline)is a couple years younger, sensitive and very much attached to his family. When they learn about their parents divorcing, hell breaks loose as they become tools for their parents to attack one another in the most subtle yet cruel manners. As the emotional receptacles for their parents' pathos, they start losing touch with themselves and behaving very badly.

The first film you'll think about here is Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979). But make no mistake: while Kramer is all Hollywood, it also focused quite specifically on the parents. Here, the movie is much more intimate, and actually focused on the kids. And it's not by accident as this is an autobiographical story from writer/director Noah Baumbach as Walt. This is mostly what makes the strength of the film. The writing is very detailed and rings very true. Being myself a divorce child, a lot of what happened in the film felt very familiar (and no, i didn't do weird things in the library). The content is VERY strong, but comes out honest. The only fault IMO, which does affect ultimately how powerful the film could have really been is that the narrative shifts often between being a first-person account from Walt's perspective, to being an objective observation of a dissolving family. This gets things confusing because some of the behaviors on display can be quite excessive, and i believe, are only so because they were lived with the perspective of a 16 year old.

The second jewel of the film is of course the performances. Jeff Daniels is fantastic as the father who is so obviously envious and lost that he turns to sleeping with one of his student, and manipulating his kids any which way he can, being completely oblivious to the impact he has on his surroundings. Laura Linney is also fantastic, but isn't she always? She is bitter and ready to move on, and she is equally adept at manipulating her kids and hurting them without seemingly ever noticing. Both parents are scary in that they seem to destroy one another purely out of negligence and carelessness rather than through a calculated war. Jesse Eisenberg is again great, but i worry that he seems to already be typecast. The young Woody Allen-like neurotic kid was fantastic in Roger Dodger (2002). It was excusable in Cursed (2005). But here, it's the third time. He is still excellent at it, but repetition detracts from the even stronger power this role could have had. Finally, Owen Kline, who was really 14 years old when he did this role) is quite impressive in creating a truly emotionally disturbed young teenager. This was a very difficult role and he performed it very well.

All in all, this is quite an impressive movie with great writing and great performances. However, maybe the subject matter hit too close to home and i felt annoyed and bored here and there during the film. Too many issues felt quite personal, or too extreme based on my own experience, and i also have very little patience for people who are so self-centered as to be completely oblivious to the rest of the world. I don't perceive it as intentional, thus the tragic nature of things. But criminal negligence doesn't make a lesser crime. So, great movie, but not something i truly enjoyed or would want to see again. I blame myself though, not the film.


- Laurent Hasson