Director/writer Noah Baumbach’s screen translation of his parents’ divorce in the ’80s gives actor Jeff Daniels his best role in years. A literati snob whose merciless competitive streak extends to “friendly” games of tennis and ping pong with his own family, Daniels’ patriarch is all head and little heart. That his wife’s (Laura Linney) literary career is blossoming in the wake of their failed marriage (and the failure to get his own book published) adds insult to injury.
It’s divorce American style as the couple squabble over their book collection, possession of the cat, and joint custody of two children. Youngest son Frank (an impressive Owen Kline) acts out in subtle and disturbing ways and eldest son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), who begins the film firmly aligned in his father’s camp, gradually gains a deeper understanding of his relationship to each parent. [**** out of 5]