Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Savages

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Estranged Siblings Care for Senile Dad in Dysfunctional Family Drama

Alzheimer’s patient Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) was living in an upscale assisted living community with his common-law wife, Doris (Rosemary Murphy), when she suddenly dropped dead. Relying on a non-marital agreement signed years prior, her heartless heirs decide to kick him out of the Arizona condo which was solely in their mother’s name.
Consequently, the burden of finding a retirement home capable of caring for someone whose senility has him smearing excrement on the walls suddenly falls to Lenny’s children living clear across the country. Although Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) are single, they’re not really ready to take on the unanticipated responsibility, since both of them are already dealing with serious issues of their own.
Wendy is an aspiring playwright plunged so deeply into denial that she claims to have won a Guggenheim grant when, in truth, she supports herself by doing temp work. Her love life isn’t any better, as she’s carrying on a self-destructive affair with an older, married man (Peter Friedman) in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
Relatively-successful Jon, on the other hand, a literature professor in Buffalo, is under pressure from his department to finish the book on Bertolt Brecht he’s been working on. Plus, he’s agonizing over whether to wed his Polish girlfriend (Cara Seymour) before her visa expires.
So, when Wendy and Jon venture to Sun City to rescue their ailing their father, they struggle to keep their emotional baggage on a back burner. But then, Jon’s impatience with the situation rubs Wendy the wrong way when he threatens to leave, and unresolved simmering sibling rivalry starts rising to the surface. “Do not leave me alone with this,” she warns. “This is a crisis.”
Arriving at a compromise, they agree to bring Lenny to Buffalo, and to place him in an affordable nursing home. Wendy sticks around town, which means she and her brother will now have ample opportunities to bicker with each other over their respective writing careers and dysfunctional romantic relationships.
So unfolds The Savages, a maudlin, slice-of-life drama written and directed by Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills). You couldn’t ask for a better pair of leads to execute the character-driven script than Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And they never disappoint, disappearing into roles which fit like gloves.
If only the film’s prevailing tone were optimistic and uplifting, rather than pessimistic and funereal, then there might be more of a reason to recommend such a downer of a flick at holiday time. For even if well done, who wants to watch a couple of middle-aged adolescents act out while their father slowly wastes away?

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality and profanity.
Running time: 113 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight

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