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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.13%
Worth A Look46.88%
Pretty Bad: 3.13%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Savages, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Too savage, even when sympathy is called for."
3 stars

I suppose that those of us who don't connect fully with "The Savages" should count ourselves as lucky; it means in part that we have yet to go through the trials that come with the looming ends of our parents' lives. Even without the personal experience to back it up, that part of the film is still effective; it's the title characters who are maybe a bit too much.

Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) works as a temp in Manhattan while applying for grants to finish her play about her screwed-up family; brother Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) teaches theater in Buffalo. A call from Sun City, Arizona informs them that father Lenny (Philip Bosco) is now their problem after the death of his long-time girlfriend. So they find him a nursing home near Jon's house and try to do right by him even though he seldom did right by them, resulting in their screwed-up state.

Movies like The Savages have to be at least a little mean, but writer/director Tamara Jenkins's venom frequently seems to be at least a little misdirected. The opening half-hour or so, especially, has a few sequences that seem calculated to make senior citizens look foolish, and while that works when we see Wendy and Jon having less than generous reactions, there has to be a better way to get across that caring for Lenny is going to be a hassle for which his children are not prepared than making all old people look ridiculous. There's also a few bits of Wendy working out to an exercise tape which makes her look silly, but to no real end - most people look silly in that situation, and that Wendy does doesn't say anything about her.

The idea is that title family has difficulty forming connections with other people, which is reflected in their other relationships: Jon can't bring himself to marry his girlfriend Kasia (Cara Seymour) despite them having been together for years and her impending deportation back to Poland; Wendy has trysts with a married man (Peter Friendman) but seems more enthusiastic about his dog. Wendy and Jon even have problems with each other, although not much worse than the normal tendency of siblings to bicker.

Since they're playing flawed characters, it's natural to have some reservations about the performances. Laura Linney is sometimes a little too much as Wendy, and not necessarily just in terms of how she's supposed to be a little off-putting. She's so closed-off most of the time that when she perks up when the subject of meds to put one's mind at ease comes up, it seems incongruous, especially since they don't seem to change her behavior very much. Hoffman is his usual reliable self as the somewhat more functional Jon. Bosco mainly has to be a hostile old guy, but gets a lot of credit for making Lenny's dementia feel much more real than just being a few tics.

My complaint with "The Savages" isn't that its characters aren't likable - Jon and Wendy generally come off better than my description, as they are at least trying to do right - but that Jenkins doesn't use their lesser qualities to interesting ends. Screwed-up people can be compelling, but Jon and Wendy just don't have enough charisma, positive or negative, to really grab this audience member's interest.

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originally posted: 01/18/08 06:30:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/10/10 MP Bartley Indie by numbers, but Linney and PSH are reliably superb. 3 stars
12/16/09 Lala couldn't get into this for some reason, but not bad 3 stars
1/16/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 4 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. i couldn't really identify with the characters that well. :/ 3 stars
12/16/08 gc Good dramatic character study, and makes you think about life too 4 stars
7/19/08 jcjs33 wonderful 5 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic well constructed drama but with a repugnant moral 2 stars
12/29/07 Louis It is what is going on in today's world, between families and commitment. Very realistic. 4 stars
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  28-Nov-2007 (R)
  DVD: 22-Apr-2008



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