[Film Review] The Savages (2007)

The Savages poster

Title: The Savages
Year: 2007
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Tamara Jenkins
Music: Stephen Trask
Cinematography: W. Mott Hupfel III
Laura Linney
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Bosco
Peter Friedman
Gbenga Akinnagbe
David Zayas
Cara Seymour
Peter Frechette
Rosemary Murphy
Margo Martindale
Guy Boyd
Debra Monk
Tonye Patano
Rating: 8.1/10

Tamara Jenkins’ breakthrough indie drama-comedy THE SAVAGES, surprisingly captured 2 Oscar nominations back in 2008 , one for the unmistakably excellent Laura Linney and a BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY nomination for herself, so freshly coined as an Oscar nominee and subsequently granted the membership of the academy, allegedly her next project should be on the horizon at any time, nevertheless, as a telling manifest of the shameful situation of female directors in the movie industry, 8 years has passed, we still have no news of Tamara’s follow-up to her excellent work, a life-affirming dissection of the worst-case scenario for (almost) every grown-up – how to fulfil our responsibility, when we must become the caretaker of our ageing parents during their last days.

Linney and the late Hoffman are siblings Wendy and Jon Savage, she is an amateur playwright and he is a college professor, so both are intellectuals and unmarried, reaching 40, Wendy is still stuck in a dead-end extramarital affair with Larry (Friedman), a 52-year-old married man, who is jollily content with the status quo. Jon, her elder brother 3 years senior, on the other hand, is ending a three-year relationship with her Polish lover Kasia (Seymour), whose visa is about to expire and he has no intention to marry her. If one is solely reading those background information on paper, both Wendy and Jon are not personable characters. Besides, they are not so close to their father Lenny (Bosco, in his fine but irritating persona as a curmudgeon), who is not protected by Common Law Marriage after his long-time girlfriend died and himself is afflicted with dementia and an ailing health, so now it is now the siblings to take care of their deteriorating father.

Neither or them can afford to attend to Lenny by themselves, thus some grating words like assisted living, nursing home or rehabilitation center are dropping by as default, but Lenny is not exactly a mellow old geezer, the film opens with his stomach-churning fecal revenge as one might expect in a slasher horror, the parent-child rapport is never the aim to be soppily achieved by Jenkins’ sincerely matter-of-fact script. More importantly, under the dysfunctional family troupe, the story-line steadily builds a re-connection between the two siblings, from the unspoken competition for grants, the guilt-shifting mind-game, to a tacit feeling when Lenny eventually drops dead peacefully, this is what is happening everyday to ordinary people, no “how could this happen to me!” overcompensating drama or “I can’t believe it!” emotional wreck, Jenkins is act of genius in singling out the golden touches out of a real-life scenario, and the unexpectedly rosy ending brings about so much hope using just a little gesture, one single scene, to cogently affirm her talent in theatrics.

It is no wonder that both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney represent the elite of their peers in Hollywood, together, they are so harmonious with each other’s presence while their differences in personality are potently exhibited through their interactions: he is pedantic, aloof but sensible, she is more emotional, ambivalent in her life orbit, and a tad naive, both tainted with some snobbishness from their sophisticated literature background. Their dialogues are spontaneous but scintillating with bons mots and when there are no words needed, the coordination between them can be equally enjoyable to behold. As my said statement, they are not quite likeable at first glance, but our judgement will evolve with the story development, when we cruise into the coda, we can all more or less identify ourselves in them, these are two sterling performance equipped with blood and flesh, but as always, LEADING ACTOR race is so packed in 2007, only Linney pounces into my Top 10 LEADING ACTRESS chart, also it is a cruel reminder for me, another superb Hoffman’s performance has been crossed out from my watch-list.

Finally, this under-appreciated indie fare deserves this reviewer’s unyielding eulogizing, it enlightens us enormously in how to be a good person, a good son/daughter, and how to correctly face our filial responsibility without being overwhelmed by our own senses of guilt and fear, also hope soon there will be some scoop of Tamara Jenkins’ next project, a hitherto eight-year gap has already been a criminal waste of time and talent.

Oscar 2007 - The Savages


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