Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Savages (2007)

The Savages (U.S., 2007) by Tamara Jenkins
Director Tamara Jenkins, more famous perhaps for her film Slums of Beverly Hills, is the writer and director of this film. The premise may sound depressing; I suppose it is, but it is uncomfortably real as well as we watch Wendy and Jon Savage, two siblings played by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, confront the decline and death of a difficult, unforgiving father Leonard Savage (Philip Bosco).

She's a temp and an aspiring playwright in NYC working on an autobiographical play. He is a professor, living in Buffalo, finishing a book on Bertolt Brecht. Their father lives in Arizona with an elderly girlfriend who has just expired. The father is forced to move and the sibs must reluctantly sort out where he will live.

They settle on a nursing home in Buffalo and Wendy temporarily relocates to be near her father.

He is a miserable such and such: rude, volatile, unpleasant, unkempt. Wendy is insecure, sensitive and slightly in awe of her better educated emotionally unavailable brother Jon. Linney''s customary brittleness works to brilliant effect. And for once, Hoffman's grumpy superiority as an actor meshes perfectly with the character.

It's not pretty but it's real ... Leonard's decline is slow and painful, the sibs are bewildered, upset, unable to negotiate the emotional territory of a difficult parent's death. And it's cleverly done. You can sense that Leonard has been a lousy parent but you have no real proof on screen until the very end and you see how brutally he has treated Jon and what he has actually done to him.

The Savages: not for the faint-hearted but very well done.

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