Friday, February 15, 2008

The Savages

Writer/Director Tamara Jenkins (apparently a Philly native) hits the target pretty well with an interesting tale of a family scattered around the country and forced to cope with a tragedy.
Jenkins' previous semi-hit, "Slums of Beverly Hills," has a similar feel as a comedic look at some less-than-funny circumstances unfolding as disfunctional families bear down and power through.
The similarities are striking, but "The Savages" gives a much more developed story through multifaceted characters that offer insight to how different people deal with the same situations.
Anyone who has dealt with loss and aging parents can tell you, this is never a cut and dry situation. "The Savages" does touch on that, but fails to really capture how complex these issues can be.
Instead Jenkins concentrates more on the relationships between an estranged father and two siblings who have drifted apart from each other. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is always a fine actor, delivers another stellar performance as Jon Savage, the older brother who needs to be the responsible one as the Laura Linney's character, Wendy, falls apart. His emotional disconnect allows him to make the rational decisions to help their father who is slipping into dementia and has just lost his girlfriend of 20 years.
Jon goes through the motions and tries to keep Wendy above water as he himself is sinking and trying desperately to hide that from his kid sister. Hoffman's strongest parts of the movie are his portrayal of the emotional side of Jon Savage being forced back by the rational, college-professor side of Jon Savage.
Both siblings have to reconcile the fact that the father who was never really there for them is now in desperate need of their help. Watching an aging parent become less of what they once were and falling in to a role of dependent is hard whether that parent was the hero or the villain before. Mustering the courage to help the parent who gave their all is difficult, but even more difficult is finding the good within yourself to pick up a parent who abandoned you decades ago.
Jenkins' script weaves its way through that journey fairly well, but could use more screen time to explore that further.
Overall, the movie brings an enjoyable story that is thought provoking and sad with touches of humor, sometimes in the most inappropriate moments, that provides a unique perspective on loss and mourning.
B+
--John Berry
Times Herald Staff

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