Tamara Jenkins’ newest indie character tragicomedy “The Savages” was one of the most exciting films to come out of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and one of the most highly anticipated films of the year. The film is a wondrous character study and even though it is a bit weak in its plot it should be recognized for its deliciously rich performances from its actors. It is also tragically funny and a must see for any fan of independent film.
When Wendy and Jon Savage (played by Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, respectively) find out that their elderly father Lenny (Philip Bosco) has been diagnosed with dementia they must face the problem of putting the man into a nursing home. Wendy is a depressed yet ambitious playwright involved with a married man. Jon is a professor of drama in Buffalo, New York and is dealing with a recent breakup with his live-in Polish girlfriend who has an expired Visa.
Both of these characters are extremely flawed and it would be very predictable for their relationship to be nothing but strained and unnatural. Fortunately, the two actors are extraordinarily able to create one of the most real sibling relationships on the screen. Their characters oddly seem to need each other to survive their own insecurities and insanities and this seems to be attributed to Linney and Hoffman’s undeniable natural chemistry.
As mentioned before, this is a film full of great performances. Linney is quite strong, albeit sometimes over exaggerated. There are moments however that show her ability to create a splendid side of realism. In one scene Wendy and Jon find themselves being approved by an interviewer for a nursing home. Wendy notices that the woman has a pen that advertises “Xanax” to which she quickly and naturally states “Oh, I take that!” In that one scene, Linney exemplifies what great delivery is.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, still hot off of his Oscar win for “Capote” two years ago, gives another career performance in this piece. Hoffman knows his character. He knows Jon’s weaknesses, his strengths, and every little thing that makes him a character. He took what could have been a boring, one dimensional character and turns him into a tragically funny man who we want to succeed and who we truly get to know.
Philip Bosco is also quite memorable, especially with what he has to work with. His character has very little to do, but Bosco adds several layers of sadness and complexity. Lenny is unaware of what is going on most of the time, but he does know that something is not quite right about his health and that inability to articulate his pain is heartbreakingly realistic.
“The Savages” only downside is its overly happy ending. Everyone gets rewarded at the end, and everything just seems a little too optimistic for such a pessimistic film. The film’s gloomy nature makes it interesting to watch and the fact that everyone gets what they want just seems uncharacteristic and improbable. Other than that, the film is filled with career performances from its three stars and will hopefully get some Academy recognition especially for Hoffman.