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Why I Am Not An Art Film Fan

January 23rd, 2006

Yesterday, Vicky and I trekked on down to our local art theater–named, coincidentally enough, the Art Theatre–to take in a matinee of The Squid and the Whale. As a rule, neither of us cares much for arty flicks, but we do want to support the Art. The last remaining single-screen movie house in town, it offers a state-of-the-art sound system and even cares enough to keep its movies both in frame and in focus, a habit that the multiplexes have yet to form. Plus, the popcorn is good.

We had seen the Squid trailer, and Vic had expressed some interest in the flick. I was a bit unsure, but I’ve been trying to broaden my tastes, and at least it looked mildly amusing. So we did our part for the Art–and for the popcorn.

The Squid and the Whale stars Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as married writers who divorce, sharing custody of their two boys. And to my surprise, there actually is both a squid and a whale in it.

Jeff Daniels plays quite possibly the most detestable movie character I have ever watched. While he’s not exactly setting puppies on fire, every time he opens his mouth, something contemptuously arrogant spills out. Even Hannibal Lechter had his good points, but there was not one moment during this film that I did not feel an urge to rise from my seat, physically enter the screen, and beat the ever-loving shit out of Daniels.

After 81 long minutes, the picture abruptly stopped. There was no fade to black, no denouement. One second, we saw the older son staring at the aforementioned sea creatures, and the next, crash to credits. Lights up. Go home. I turned to Vic, and said, “Did they run out of film?”

When I got home I called my friend Dave L., as he likes producer Wes Anderson and was the only other person that I knew had seen it. He said that there was an ending: that the son had finally realized his father, the man after whom he patterned his life, was a cocksucker. (Okay, Dave may not have said “cocksucker.”) “But I knew that in the first five minutes!” I complained, to which Dave said, “Yeah, but he’s not your father.”

As for the rest of the characters in the film, we simply don’t know, nor should we apparently care, what happens to them. Did Laura Linney ultimately wind up with a Baldwin brother? Did Anna Paquin–who suddenly vacated the film off-screen without apparent motivation–get a better gig in the middle of shooting? And just why was the younger son smearing his spooge on every available vertical surface?

One of the end credits read “For Mannie.” Vic retorted, “Somewhere out there, Mannie is sitting at home saying ‘Why do you hate me so?'”

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