Sunday, January 2, 2011

Director and Stars Deliver the Goods in "The Savages"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 25 (of 2008) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Savages (2007)
Running time: 113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
MPAA – R for some sexuality and language
PRODUCERS: Anne Carey, Ted Hope, and Erica Westheimer
EDITOR: Brian A. Kates
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, Gbenga Akinnagbe, David Zayas, and Cara Seymour

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins delivered some of the best screenwriting of 2007 with her drama, The Savages. Her stars, Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in turn, delivered some of the best acting on screen all year.

Wendy Savage (Linney) and her brother Jon Savage (Hoffman) carry the emotional scars of an abusive childhood. Living in New York City’s East Village, Wendy is a long aspiring playwright who spends her days temping and spends her nights having an affair with her neighbor, Larry (Peter Friedman). Living in upstate Buffalo, New York, Jon is a professor of drama, struggling to finish his book on Bertolt Brecht. They suddenly get an unexpected call from Arizona informing them that their estranged and abusive father, Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) is suffering from dementia.

Reunited, the siblings face the challenge of caring for their ailing elderly father in spite of their emotional disconnect from him and each other. They move him into a Buffalo nursing home, and Wendy takes up residence with Jon. Living under the same roof again, Wendy and Jon rediscover each other’s eccentricities, personal failings, and the other things that drove them crazy. However, they may finally have to face adulthood and learn what good there really is in being part of a family.

If a director is to keep a family drama like The Savages from becoming a sappy soap opera, she must draw nuance from both her script and her performers, which Tamara Jenkins does in The Savages, earning herself an Oscar nomination for “Best Original Screenplay.” This smartly written and beautifully played film is for people who love films that allow great actors to do the thing they do so well.

Laura Linney, who also earned an Oscar nod for this picture, wows with her deep and sensitive portrayal of woman adrift in her middle age and trying to get her bearings. Linney really sells the notion that Wendy Savage will, through this tragedy, find the things in her past that she can both cherish and also bring into the future to make her life better. Philip Seymour Hoffman, having a career year in 2007, shows off his diversity by also playing a sensitive creative type. Hoffman also enriches Jon by gradually revealing a strong, steady side to a character that seems unable to take the next big step in anything he does.

Tamara Jenkins reveals an uncanny touch in the way she examines how nature and nurture go into making us who we are, and she makes an attractive narrative of this. It is a film that, while compassionate, is unsentimental.

7 of 10

2008 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Laura Linney) and “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Tamara Jenkins)

2008 Golden Globes: 1 nomination for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Philip Seymour Hoffman)

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