Can this delicate indie possibly live up to all the hype?
It's been almost ten years since writer/director Tamara Jenkins made a name for herself with her brassy, blackly funny Slums of Beverly Hills. Now she's back with The Savages, a decidedly more adult examination of not-so-healthy family dynamics.
Inspired by Jenkins' own personal experience with aging family members and ill health, The Savages is about two siblings who have to come together in a family crisis. Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an uber-intellectual Brecht professor at a college in Buffalo, whereas his sister Wendy (Laura Linney) is an overly emotional temp/aspiring playwright with a married boyfriend in New York. When their estranged and highly flawed father needs to be put in a nursing home with dementia, the two have to face the ghosts of their past--and their future--together.
Jenkins fans looking for the irreverent humor of Slums need not apply: The Savages is a much different product. Not that there isn't humor--there are some moments--but they are much lighter and less, which makes sense considering The Savages is mostly a very real story of two people trying to cope with their father's swiftly impending death in the wake of a very imperfect life.
The movie is a character study of the very different Savage siblings, and considering the enormous talent Jenkins cast in the parts, it is more surprising to hear that Linney and Hoffman haven't worked together before than it is to hear that they fulfilled the roles perfectly. I mean, really, how could they not?
However, The Savages did leave me wondering--is there such a thing as a movie being too much like real life? There is a realism in the writing, acting, and atmosphere of this movie that I think others are responding to that took the some of the steam out of the story for me. I might not have wanted Jon and Wendy's shoes to feel quite so tight when I was walking in them--especially considering what a depressing time in their lives Jenkins explores.