The Savages

The Savages


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

When the elderly Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) gains momentum down the unswerving road of progressive senility, his all but estranged middle-aged son and daughter are thrust back into his life. Suddenly Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) have to work out how to meet Dad’s care needs, confront the personal issues the challenge raises and still keep their own circumscribed ambitions on track.

Sounds very earnest, compassionate and more than a bit mawkish, but writer-director Tamara Jenkins steers well clear of such triteness, pitching her tone with wonderfully crafted opening scenes. At first there’s a montage of Sun City, Arizona, a sunshine-bleached retirement village where every OAP is perma-grinning and exercising choreographically. It’s almost cartoonish. Then Jenkins cuts through to the reality of Lenny at home being told off by a support worker for not flushing the toilet, leading him to start daubing on the wall with his own waste. Clearly as disturbed by this as anyone, it’s a powerful evocation of the real developments that he faces.

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The further emotional and physical trials of communication difficulties, incontinence and nursing homes ensue, although The Savages is not a sombre affair. There are incisive moments of poignancy, but this is a pleasurably modulated and intelligent comedy throughout.

The humour comes from Linney and The Hoff’s expert handling of their diverting characters. Wendy is a struggling playwright, Jon is a toiling academic, both are flawed, prickly and caught up in their own stagnating worlds and aspirations. Drawn together again, their sibling relationship re-affirms itself as they deal with their mistakes and life’s trials - the comic moments this creates are warm and genuinely affecting. They’re great acting talents and clearly relish each other as a foil, but neither chew scenery. Rather they engage, intimate, evince and share with such control and partnership that they’re a highly convincing brother and sister team.

Of course, it is Jenkins’ excellent script that lays the foundations for the winning performances. Avoiding melodrama or histrionics, Jenkins smoothly binds her characters’ situations with themes of loneliness, old age, death and familial responsibility. It’s not preachy or outspoken; it’s subtle, touching and funny.

A fresh little film with some excellent performances that deserves more attention than it’s unfortunately likely to get.

Reviewed on: 09 Jan 2008
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A brother and sister must cope with their elderly father’s increasing care needs.
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Read more The Savages reviews:

Ben Sillis ****1/2

Director: Tamara Jenkins

Writer: Tamara Jenkins

Starring: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, David Zayas, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Cara Seymour, Tonye Patano, Guy Boyd, Debra Monk, Rosemary Murphy

Year: 2007

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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