Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Laura Linney,
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: April 22, 2008
“We are horrible, horrible, horrible people!”
Family may not always necessarily produce love, affection and intimacy, but it IS always family. Such is the idea behind Tamara Jenkins’ film The Savages, which seems to take one chapter in the lives of three people when the ties of birth force them to come together to deal with an approaching tragedy.
Wendy Savage (Oscar nominee Linney) is in her late 30s, and works temp jobs while aspiring to produce a play based on her childhood experiences. Her brother Jon (Hoffman) is in his early 40s, teaches college, and is working on a book about Brecht. They live in the same state, but that’s about it. On the other side of the country is their estranged father Lenny (Bosco), whose longtime girlfriend has just died, leaving him without a home.
The siblings reluctantly come to their father’s aid, and we get the sense that life with Dad had been a little less than rosy growing up (though we don’t get real insight until the end). They bring him from California to New York, where they have to put him in a nursing home for his age and increasing dementia.
That could be the end of the story, but despite the difficulty of their relationships, neither kid abandons the father. They spend as much time with him as possible, while at the same time, sorting out their own fractured lives. Wendy has been having an affair with an older married man (Friedman), while Jon’s relationship with a Polish immigrant is coming to an end because her visa is expiring, and he’s not ready to marry her to keep her stateside.
No one in this family is emotionally healthy, and no one before now seems to have possessed the ability to look beyond their own microcosm of existence in order to reach out to others. The father’s condition forces them to take a good hard look at their pasts, presents and futures. Whether or not the change in their perceptions will alter the course of their lives is unclear; The Savages is mostly about the here and now, with only uneasy, incomplete glances either forward or backward.
I’d hesitate to call the movie insightful, but it definitely seems truthful. It’s not so much an exploration of human conditions as it is a treatise on the bond of family, which can sometimes be a tie that strangles a bit. But what can you do? Maybe Wendy and Jon are the ideal candidates to put an ailing father away and forget about him, but they don’t. It may be the only charitable act of their lives, and they may not fully understand why they bother, but one feels there’s something at least marginally redemptive about their actions. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much else of real value for either one of them.
A picture like this is one you can enjoy just for the strength of the acting, and the pairing of two of our greatest in Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman is a pleasure to watch. These masters of crafts really bring out the depths of what might be considered shallow characters, and in such a way that it feels like their discovering themselves at the same time the audience is discovering them.
Tamara Jenkins earned an Oscar nomination for her screenplay, which does a good job of creating a specific time and place in these people’s existence, and focusing on it, and not expanding the canvas too wide beyond the margins. It feels like another chapter could easily be written about Laura and Jon, and given the material here, people would probably want to follow up on them.
The Savages represents her first film in ten years, following The Slums of Beverly Hills, and one can only hope we won’t have to wait another decade to see what else she has in store.
This is a mostly solid anamorphic transfer; not too demanding, occasionally a little soft, but overall servicing the material and structure better than competently.
It’s a dialogue-oriented picture, and as such, doesn’t require much of its 5.1 audio track, but spoken words are clean and clear throughout.
The extras include a making-of featurette, a “director’s snapshot”, and a couple of extended scenes.
Jon and Wendy sound like names from Peter Pan, while Savages suggests something harsh and brutal. The truth is in between, but kind of distant from both extremes. Tamara Jenkins’ film, featuring two standout lead performances, is a bittersweet aria of life, death, and all that crazy, sad, funny stuff that happens in the middle.