Published Dec 20, 2007There are so many moments of heartbreaking truth in writer/director Tamara Jenkins film The Savages (her first since her debut Slums of Beverly Hills), you almost want to look away. But the stronger instinct is to be riveted to the screen: to the emotional journey of adult siblings Wendy and Jon Savage (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) as they struggle with their long-estranged and now demented father (Philip Bosco).
The film opens with Wendy taking a call that their fathers condition has taken a turn for the worse and he clearly needs long-term care. When Wendy calls Jon, who initially blows her off, it appears to set up a fairly typical family dynamic: the responsibility-shouldering sister and the emotionally stunted brother who wont help. But as these people (and they are people here, not characters) reveal their adult selves to each other, and possibly for the first time even to themselves, the surface quirks only reveal a hint of the complex relationships at work.
Jon is a theatre professor who teaches Brechts theatre of social activism to his students but cant commit to a relationship, while Wendy works as a temp and lies to herself about her prospects as a playwright. The grey damp of winter in Buffalo - where they bring ailing dad to be closer to both kids - serves as a stark contrast to his Sun City, Arizona digs, and to the emotionally sub-zero temperatures this family has been living in.
All this would seem to make The Savages the least appealing way to spend a Saturday night at the movies but hold up there: this is funny, tear-jerking adult entertainment, the kind that people always complain doesnt get made any more. For a film that explores emotional explosions and heart-felt twists of fate, look no further than The Savages. (Searchlight)