This 2005 movie traces the painful ground of divorce and its impact on a small family in 1980s Brooklyn. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) have two teenage sons, Walt (Jessie Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline, son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates), but cannot make their union work any longer. Bernard blames Joan, citing a string of affairs over the years, unable to acknowledge that his own transformation from a celebrated young novelist to a bitter pompous bore might make him a less than ideal partner. While Joan's star as a writer is rising, with a story in the New Yorker and a novel coming out, Bernard receives rejection letters from editors and agents and is able to impress only his college students and his eldest son Walt, who parrots his father's lines without understanding them.
As the adults struggle, Bernard accusing, Joan guilty but determined, the children are inevitably drawn into the poisonous dynamic. Walt viciously accuses his mother of duplicity and deceit, and sensitive Frank hears only disapproval in his father's questioning about his future. The children act out their confusion in typically childish ways: Walt plagiarizes a Pink Floyd song for a talent contest and dumps his lovely young girlfriend because she might not be good enough; Frank starts drinking and wiping his semen around the school library and hallways. Not effective coping mechanisms, admittedly, but realistic for all that.
As someone who has lived through more than one parental divorce, I found this movie painfully familiar and very real. It dwells on the little moments when family members come together, and those when they fracture apart. The acting is great - not just the four family members, though they are very good, but also Anna Paquin as one of Bernard's students, William Baldwin as a slacker tennis coach, Halley Feiffer as Walt's girlfriend.
This semi-autobiographical family drama was written and directed with great sensitivity and pathos by Noah Baumbach, who received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay. It's sad, funny, poignant, and touching, and highly recommended.