Noah Baumbach's Affinity for Animals

Noah Baumbach's Affinity for Animals

This 2005 feature, produced by Wes Anderson, seems to have been the career maker Noah Baumbach was working towards. The Squid and the Whale also marks a relatively early appearance by none other than Jesse Eisenberg – who’s surprisingly unannoying in this particular appearance.

Either way, the film features another clutch of characters endeavoring to meld art and life in a weird familial situation. Much in the same way Baumbach’s other films revolve around arsty characters, this one tosses in some more infidelity that should already have been a hallmark of this guy’s work.

The film chronicles the break up of novelist Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and new-novelist Joan (Laura Kinney). Having a pair of kids doesn’t make the scenario any easier – nor does the fact that Bernard’s had some recent problems publishing while Joan’s recently become something of a small time literary star. And yeah, those ideas are pretty pervasive in just about all of Baumbach’s other works.

But as the family breaks up, Bernard lands a plum house in a neighborhood his ex deems relatively unsafe. The kids aren’t pleased – each taking sides with the parent they most resemble. It’s actually a bit sad to watch Eisenberg’s character hang on Bernard’s every word.

Even more bizarre, though, is the eventual lodge Bernard takes in. She’s one of his students – and while that in and of itself should have been a problem, the physical relationship that’s hinted at compounds things. Luckily, though, Eisenberg’s character gets a piece of the action just before the entire scenario becomes untenable.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s buried underneath willfully literary characters, a construct no one else seems to have too much trouble with until the writer and director arrives at Margot at the Wedding – which actually doesn’t involve too much of a wedding.

Making it in Hollywood – or at least in an adjacent, kinda indie world – Baumbach wasn’t, for whatever reason, necessitated to find some different and unique set of characters to give over his stories to. Watching it all progress from Kicking and Screaming doesn’t seem to give off the sense that Baumbach progressed too much.

Granted, the dialogue is significantly less stilted in this latter work. But for so much of the dialogue to detail the world, work and life of the writer still seems verbose at best. Well, using the word verbose is a bit verbose. Too bad the feature following this lauded effort rings out even more resolutely as a work of a mind completely absorbed in talking about itself.