Writer-director Baumbach collaborated on the script of The Life Aquatic by Wes Anderson, who returned the favour by producing his. But while there's an echo here of Anderson's fogeyish archness, Baumbach's film is overall very different: a realistic family comedy with a splash of solemn farce, and crackling with self-consciously literary in-jokes. The film is set in 1986, in a household where the New Yorker is always lying around somewhere, and it's a very New Yorker movie. It's also quite a Woody Allen-ish movie - which is almost but not quite the same thing - and the use of hand-held camera in painful situations (DoP Robert Yeoman shot Anderson's considerably more formal films) recalls Allen's own big statement on divorce, Husbands and Wives.
In the Berkman house, both parents are novelists: Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a "difficult" writer who can no longer get published, and Joan (Laura Linney), who started writing after she married, is now on the rise, to Bernard's chagrin. When they split, their two sons take it badly. Sixteen-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), who has inherited Dad's intellectual haughtiness and drops Kafka into the conversation whenever possible, performs a morose Pink Floyd ballad at school and passes it off as his own. And 12-year-old tennis obsessive Frank (Owen Kline) finds solace in beer, profanity and some eccentric masturbation rituals: it's a moot point whether the kid's really screwed up, or whether Baumbach just admires Todd Solondz.
Certainly Baumbach's film demystifies literary self-obsession no less pithily than Solondz's Storytelling: Bernard takes a shine to a precocious creative writing student of his (Anna Paquin), who seems a likely prospect because she's written "a chronicle of her vagina".
Playing a man so up himself that he drops a Godard reference when being wheeled off on a hospital stretcher, Jeff Daniels - sometimes easy to dismiss as a reliable yeoman - turns in a dazzlingly downplayed portrait of resentful pomposity, his stuffy, rueful features coming into their own. Bernard defines "philistines" as "people who don't like books or interesting films". Only a philistine could fail to like Baumbach's tender, caustic, class act.
Some people have suggested that Rupert Murray's documentary Unknown White Male might actually be a hoax: I guess they're philistines too. Perhaps Murray's story feels too good, or too richly resonant, to be true, but then the human mind is a funny thing. Doug Bruce, a 37-year-old Englishman (inset) - and a friend of Murray's - woke up one morning on the New York subway with his memory completely erased. It turned out he was a stockbroker turned photographer, conveniently for Murray, who was able to include footage from Bruce's own video diaries of the new life he was forced to begin - a life in which the routine had become bizarrely unfamiliar. Everything Bruce experienced was suddenly brand new to him, whether it was meeting his family for the "first time", or feeling a child-like delight at discovering strawberries, the ocean and a great new band that turned out to be the Rolling Stones.
Murray's energetic montage - sometimes breathless, sometimes thoughtful - raises troubling questions about the nature of self and memory, and the charismatic Bruce, re-entering the world like a posh-boy Kaspar Hauser, makes a swaggering existential hero. If the film is trumped-up, which I doubt, then it's even more of an achievement on Murray's part to concoct a narrative that's as complex and troubling as something that Paul Auster, Borges and Camus might have knocked up between them.Reuse content