The Savages

The Savages

Film review by: Witney Seibold

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One of my favorite types of movie character is the person who is smarter than they are wise; they are well-learned, well-read, and know how to quote books and operate within small circles, but seem to be clueless when it comes to important life decisions that come from everyday adulthood. Tamara Jenkins’ new film “The Savages” gives us a pair of this type in the forms of Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), two very savvy and self-aware writers who, when faced with a crisis, become the bickering and simpering children that they are constantly trying to conceal. But, y’know, in a funny way.

When elderly Lenny Savage (Phillip Bosco) starts to show signs of dementia, his two estranged children, Wendy and Jon, become the only ones who can take care of him. Neither Wendy nor Jon particularly wants to do this, as their father was always kind of a bastard to them. Both Wendy and Jon are well-read, write a lot, and (“All Things Considered” fans will wiggle at a few moments), listen to public radio. Jon is a college professor who can’t seem to finish that Brecht book he’s been working on for years, and is too afraid to marry his decade-long girlfriend. Wendy is desperately seeking a federal grant for her scriptwriting, although it seems pretty clear she knows she doesn’t deserve one. She’s also carrying on with an older married man (Peter Friedman), even though both of them know the affair is mutually emotionally destructive. With these desperate and wounded people, we travel the sticky road of sending a relative away into nursing care (not an easy task, even for someone whose life is entirely together), as well as the guilt that accompanies such a task.

Eventually both siblings must stare in the face their own disappointments in themselves, and openly acknowledge their disappointment in their father.

Oh, and did I mention the film plays like a comedy? That’s the beauty of the film: it manages to be about dark wounded people dealing with an emotionally crippling task, but still leaves you smiling. Jenkins manages to open the characters bare without scarring anyone, manages to reveal just how hurt these people are while balancing it with the absurd and detached weirdness that must accompany any life-altering decision. The characters come across as humorous and neurotic, almost in the Woody Allen vein, but without the precious New York sappiness that can sometimes infect Allen’s work.

Responsible for almost all of the film’s success are the two leads. Linney knows how to make a whiny and lying woman seem dynamic and appealing, and Hoffman almost can’t help but be good in the role of a smart man barely disguising his inner life. Both of them deserve a second look come awards time.

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Published in: on January 10, 2008 at 11:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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