January 3, 2008

REVIEW: The Savages (B+)

Background: Tamara Jenkins last wrote a screenplay almost 10 years ago - her critically lauded Slums of Beverly Hills, which she also directed. Jenkins took on both roles again for The Savages, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War) and Laura Linney (Breach, The Squid and the Whale). In supporting roles are Philip Bosco and Peter Friedman - unrecognizable names, but somewhat familiar faces, almost as if you've seen them in a nightmare before...turns out they were both in Freedomland, an almost unforgivable sin.

Synopsis: Jon (Hoffman) and Wendy (Linney) Savage are adult siblings who are uncomfortably reunited when their estranged father Lenny (Bosco) requires living assistance - he suffers from dementia and his elderly girlfriend passes away. Jon, a bookish college professor in Buffalo, NY, and Wendy, a depressed but aspiring playwright in Manhattan, decide to move Lenny (Bosco) from Sun City, AZ, into a nursing home in Buffalo. Over the course of the next few months, Wendy and Jon reconnect with each other and with their father as their failed romances and quirky personalities get in the way.

I Loved:
+ Philip Seymour Hoffman, who completely owned this character. He excels at plain, downtrodden guys. You can have Capote, which was just an acting show for anyone who still doubted his talent. I'd much rather see him in Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Happiness, or Love Liza, to name a few.

I Liked:
+ The amusing dreariness of Buffalo, NY. Even when it was sunny it looked miserable.
+ Laura Linney and Philip Bosco as the other Savage family members.
+ The scene with Linney and Hoffman outside Greenside Manor or Greenhill Manor or whatever it was called.

I Disliked:
- The "6 months later" ending, which was a little tacked on and unnecessary. The pace seemed to drag a bit in the second half.

I Hated:
- That old age was portrayed as hopeless and miserable.

Writing - 10
Acting - 10
Production - 7
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 4

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

Last Word: In the array of family tragicomedies that come out every year (i.e., Little Miss Sunshine, Margot at the Wedding), few ever seem as realistic or truly touching as The Savages. Bolstered by impressive performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, it's at times dark without being cruel, and funny without being hilarious. Of course, you could say that about a lot of independent movies, which is also what works against The Savages: it's just not that original. More than once I was reminded of last year's Aurora Borealis, and you could name a whole bunch of movies where a family character has dementia. That being said, The Savages still delivers a good story with subtle comedy. And, I'll give it some extra points because, believe it or not, the family members actually like each other! That's an original idea these days.

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