We begin with an ending: the final collapse of the marriage between Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney. He is a formerly renowned author who now can’t get himself arrested, let alone published. She is suddenly coming in to her own as a writer. He is pathologically self-obsessed. She is deeply insecure. Together, they spell bad news for their two sons, 16-year-old Jesse Eisenberg and 12-year-old Owen Kline. Both parents are a bit of a mess, but daddy is easily the worst offender, and is an absolut…ly poisonous influence on Eisenberg, who worships his father and viciously blames his mother for the split-up. What follows is primarily Eisenberg’s coming of age, where he must learn to see both of his parents (and, for that matter, himself) with real honesty.
There’s enough human misery here to make this the downer of the year, but writer/director Noah Baumbach deftly makes it all funny (if in a rather painful, close-to-the-bone way). The tone, a very delicate one to achieve, is somewhat reminiscent of that of Wes Anderson (who co-produced), but there is less whimsy and more unflinching reality in Baumbach’s film world. Given this, I must confess to a slight bit of skepticism that Eisenberg’s plagiarism of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” isn’t immediately recognized as such, but I’m being churlish, and would thus deny the use of the song is the film’s emotional turning point.
Everything about the movie is pretty low key, and this includes the audio. There is some surround, but it is muted, and this includes the music score. This isn’t a problem, though, as the film’s delicate internal balance could well be wrecked by an in-your-face sound design. The environmental effects are still solid, and there is no distortion at all on the dialogue.
There are some flaws to the picture, but these are more due to the limitations of its format than anything else: the film was shot in super 16 mm. The grain that is present, therefore, is pretty much unavoidable, and to the transfer’s credit, it isn’t very noticeable. The flesh tones are a little inconsistent, but the colours, blacks and contrasts are all solid.
Here is a very refreshing take on the commentary track. Rather than talk over the film, Baumbach instead comments over a series of still images. The result is more compact and succinct than most other tracks. It is further broken down by subject, making it easy for the viewers to skip to whatever topic most interests them. An interview with Baumbach conducted after the film’s showing at the New York Film Festival is also provided, while the behind-the-scenes featurette is more raw and thoughtful than most of its kind. The liner reproduces two review in their entirety (from the LA Times and the New Yorker), and there are a few previews on the disc. The menu is fully animated and scored for the first two levels of screens.
A smart, affecting film, that makes it a pleasure to watch the painful.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Behind the Scenes Featurette
- Interview with Noah Baumbach