The Savages is a family
drama, a genre that’s very rare
in Hollywood today. In the film, Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) and
her brother Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are forced to take care of Lenny
(Philip Bosco), the father they hadn’t seen in years, when the
woman he’s been living with dies.
Wendy is an aspiring playwright working as a temp
in New York, having an affair with a married man. Jon lives with a Polish woman in
Buffalo, where he teaches literature while working on his book on Brecht. Suddenly
they are summoned to Arizona and forced to deal with Lenny. They
end up bringing him to Buffalo and put him in a nursing home. Wendy
decides to stay with Jon for a couple of months until the holidays are
over, to help during the transition.
The Savages has been categorized as that
new breed of film called “dramedy” (comedy-drama), although it’s short
on comedy. I found it a pretty bleak film, dealing with heavy subject
matter. Both Wendy and Jon (is it a coincidence that they have
names from Peter Pan?) are unfulfilled in their lives and careers
as they face middle age. The mixed emotions they uncover when they
are forced to deal with their distant father are unsettling. As
a person with a parent in a nursing home, I can empathize with their
predicament and the feelings of guilt, but having no other viable options. Actually,
Wendy feels a lot guiltier than Jon, who resigns himself to the situation.
Writer-director Tamara Jenkins is realistic in her
approach to the story. The
cast is excellent, especially Linney, who received an Oscar nomination
for her performance. Yet, it’s lacking. Unlike great
drama, there is little that’s fresh or unique in this family saga. The
screenplay fails to have the beauty of language that our great playwrights
(O’Neill, Williams, Miller) brought to their family dramas. Wendy,
Jon, and Lenny predictably get on each other’s nerves. Wendy
grouses about the poor condition of the nursing home, although, in my
experience, it could have looked much worse.
The main redeeming quality to The Savages is
that, after the death of Lenny near the end of the film, sister and
brother realize that they have become closer to each other through
their shared ordeal. They
learn to be less critical, more forgiving, and more supportive of each
other as they lived their imperfect lives. It’s certainly
a nice touch, and a worthy theme for a movie. I only wish The
Savages had moved more quickly, and with a lighter touch, to make
it to its final revelation.
Tom Condon, OP
The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L --
limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would
find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R
-- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.