Noah Baumbach's piercing, forthright and largely autobiographical "The Squid and the Whale" is set in Brooklyn 1986. When Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) Berkman inform their children, 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), they're getting a divorce, it's the beginning of an emotional whirlwind for four very different people. Bernard shacks up with a student (Anna Paquin). Joan dates an eccentric tennis instructor (William Baldwin). And both children shunt between two homes. They have their share of issues, too: Walt passes off a Pink Floyd song as his own for a music competition. And Frank has discovered sexual self-gratification, which he feels compelled to share a little too publicly.
Baumbach gives everyone humanistic dimension. Joan, who had affairs during the marriage, had her reason: Bernard's complete self-absorption. Even Bernard has his moments of relative decency. Walt, who takes his father's side in this moral battle, starts to see his father's faults and his mom's higher qualities, and Frank starts to descend from his peculiar orbit.
The movie feels like it was written in the filmmaker's own sweat and tears. It's so brutally honest at times, you can almost sense the real Baumbachs squirming, twitching, tut-tutting and maybe even nodding their heads. Whatever their reaction -- and, goodness, what a spectacle that would be -- this story doesn't just belong to them anymore. This richly observed, sometimes heartbreaking movie has become ours, too.
-- Desson Thomson