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  The Savages

Starring: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman

Directed by: Tamara Jenkins

Produced by: Ted Hope, Anne Carey, Erica Westheimer

Written by: Tamara Jenkins

Distributor: Fox Seachlight Pictures


As seen at AFI Fest 2007:

     Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages might not carry the gravest of tones, but it deals with a topic of profound emotional heft: the deterioration of a parent’s health. Despite its success as a black comedy and its uplifting messages about the miracle that is life, there’s no denying that this is a sad, sad movie. Still, the difference between The Savages and the average tearjerker of this sort is the warmth and humanity displayed by its characters. Not only is this the reason that the movie’s subtle sense of humor is able to work effectively, it is also why the movie succeeds as a drama. Jenkins has given filmgoers a motion picture that they can really be thankful for this Holiday season, one that never skirts around the hard truths of life but understands them with such compassion that it is impossible not to embrace.

     Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) don’t know what to do with their ailing father Lenny (Philip Bosco), who is slowly dying of Dementia. Lenny’s girlfriend of many years has just kicked the bucket and, having signed an agreement revoking any ownership rights he might normally have established over her home or property (“a pre-nup without the nup,” as Jon understands it), he has nowhere to go and no one to take care of him. After much debate between Jon and Wendy, who have not been in regular contact with each other for years and find it hard to agree on anything, Lenny is moved from his prior residence of Sun City, Arizona to a nursing home near Jon’s Buffalo, New York home. As Lenny’s condition deteriorates, his son and daughter forge a bond that makes them feel closer to each other than they ever had been before.

     Lenny’s devastating condition is not atypical for a man of his age, but this does not make it any less tragic. Jenkins rightfully does not shy away from this truth, depicting the man’s medical problems in unflinching detail from the get-go. In one of the first scenes in the film (when Lenny’s girlfriend is still alive), the viewer is forced to confront the severity of Lenny’s case of Dementia. When his girlfriend’s pompous caregiver asks him to flush his excrement down their toilet, which he had neglected to do, Lenny becomes enraged at the man’s carelessness and smothers the feces all over the bathroom wall. It is a harrowing sequence, with a great amount of power resting in Bosco’s stunningly realistic performance. Equal poignancy is achieved in a later scene, in which Lenny finally realizes that the nursing home he is staying in is not a hotel, as he had assumed, when Jon asks him if he would like to be buried or cremated when he dies.

     As much as The Savages may have to say about the American medical system, it functions primarily as a touchingly human tale. After all, Lenny is just a supporting character who fulfills a predictable path as the film progresses. It is Jon and Wendy who are the lifeblood of the film’s story, the individuals who the viewer relates to and seeks solace in. In this regard, The Savages is something of a minor-masterpiece, mainly because of the perfect presence of Hoffman and Linney in the roles. Even if the two actors aren’t the manically depressed people that their characters are, the viewer can’t help but find so much of Hoffman and Linney’s own personalities incorporated in Jon and Wendy. As a result, The Savages becomes very easy to connect with and, in turn, to discover a bit of oneself in. Whether this quality is a testament to the leads’ abilities as actors or to casting director Jeanne McCarthy’s knack for picking them, I dunno, but it doesn’t really matter. As moviegoers, we can simply be grateful to know that Hoffman and Linney found these roles and made them their own.

     As depressing as my description of The Savages may make the movie sound, I must assure you that it is as much a crowd-pleaser as it is a serious drama. For audiences to assume that the film’s subject-matter makes it an entirely unbearable experience would be a grave mistake. As I previously hinted, Jenkins’ deep realization of Jon and Wendy’s characters allows for some terrifically-written dark humor to surface in the situations that they find themselves in. In fact, The Savages boasts a few laugh-out-loud sequences that will momentarily make the audience forget the work’s pervading melancholy. In addition, the film finishes amidst a beautifully pro-life message, ultimately leaving said audience appreciative of life’s many beauties. Grim as it sometimes may seem, The Savages will find its way into the hearts and minds of viewers, resonating in a manner that is both poignant and gentle.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.27.2007

Screened on: 11.9.2007 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.


The Savages is rated R and runs 113 minutes.

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