In this series, “Two-bite movies” I have reviewed the life of moster Henry Hill, Japanese adaptations of Shakespeare, and good movies ruined by Hollywoodization. Now for two nostalgic and elitist wastes of time: The Squid and the Whale, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The Squid and the Whale is sort of a 1980s offshoot of the Wes Anderson universe. Indeed, the similarities between Squid and The Royal Tennenbaums is striking. In order to go from one to another, simply remove interesting characters, subtlety, and charm. There are no sympathetic characters, certainly, the parents are both awful people, and neither of the children appears to be headed anywhere sort of juvie. Unlike Smart People (a nearly identical film made three years later) there is no attempt at humor. The only thing that Squid and Whale adds from the Wes Anderson universe is an excessive obsession with the foibles of the wine-and-Kerry crowd, from a major plot element being published in the New Yorker to the parents comparing each other based on their publishing record.
If The Squid and the Whale is an abode of farces of those who really wish they could have voted for John Kery, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is for Americans who really, really wish the 2008 elections would have been George W. Bush v. John F. Kennedy. The film is told from flashbacks during Hurricane Katrina and includes a dizzying array of stereotypical, flat, characters (a blue-collar worker who’s really an artist; an anti-war protester who makes a clock that goes backward; an angelic, meaty black woman, cold, white rich, fathers; ad naseum). While I’m critical of The Squid and the Whale for its stuffy elitism, at least it is intelligent enough to recognize problems. For instance, the theme of a broken home is pervasive in Squid, even if it’s presented as a quirky inevitability. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it really does just take a village, and kids grow up just fine without their fathers in their lives.
Between the two, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is worse. Longer, duller, and more boomerish, it has nothing to recommend it except for computer graphics. The Squid and the Whale, on the other hand, would be clever if not for better movies that came before and after it.