When marriages implode, the results are never pretty. In writer-director Noah Baumbach's brilliant tale of divorce, Brooklyn intellectual style, a particularly ugly separation between a failed novelist (Daniels) and his successful writer wife (Linney) produces no end of emotional shrapnel. When the couple announce the split to their sons, each kid immediately takes sides: Teen Walt (Eisenberg) bunkers down in Pop's new Prospect Park apartment ("It's the filet of the neighborhood"), while tennis-obsessed little brother Frank (Kline) forms a spiky allegiance with Mom. They also start acting out their confusion and sense of displacement, running the gamut from plagiarizing Pink Floyd songs and sneaking beers to smearing semen on school lockers.
Baumbach's usual keen eye for details and ear for ultraurbane wit are in full effect here, from the way that Walt tries to adopt his dad's penchant for literary pretentiousness ("I love The Metamorphosis, it's so Kafkaesque!") to the indecision over who gets the family cat. But this quasiautobiographical account of the filmmaker's experience as a child of divorce—his parents were also writers—is leagues above previous efforts like Kicking and Screaming (1995); in mining the personal, he's added a mercilessness to his repertoire that amplifies the humor and the pity. Baumbach's take on dysfunctional-family feuding is somehow affectionate and unsparing, which makes his dramedy all the more painful and all the more perfect.—David Fear