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Coco Forsythe

Published January 25th, 2008 | by Coco Forsythe

The Savages Review

Classification: 15 Director: Tamara Jenkins Rating: 3.5/5

The Savages, like our own And When Did You Last See Your Father, is unlikely to set the multiplexes alight, dealing as it does with that trickiest of tricky subjects, aging and death. In denial as we all are, botoxed and dieted and funkily tricked out in youthful fashions, aging is the great taboo, and films that attempt to deal with it honestly are never going to be popular, which is a shame, as The Savages is a fine family drama, irreverent, insightful and truthful and featuring sterling work from Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as the unhappy Savage siblings.

Wendy (Linney) is a struggling playwright, living in Manhattan and earning a living by temping, applying for grant after grant and stealing stationery from her various employers, while having a loveless sexual relationship with her married neighbour. Her brother John (Hoffman) is a moderately successful, conveited academic, living in Buffalo. They are not a particularly close family; having escaped their domineering father, the siblings are firmly cocooned in their own complicated lives.

And then their father, Lenny, the man they have long avoided, is diagnosed with dementia and they have to care for him. Suddenly not only do they have to spend time with their father, but also with each other.

Hoffman and Linney are superb as the siblings forced to spend time in each other’s company, to their mutual irritation. Jon, busy with his book, would be happy to leave everything to Wendy, and tries to keep an objective viewpoint; Wendy won’t let him, and fusses over their father like a baby, bringing him things he neither wants nor needs, and getting upset when he rejects them. She is torn up inside with sibling rivalry and, even as their father lies dying, makes up stories about winning a grant just to spite Jon, They are bewildered and, frankly, often quite horrid, yet somehow remain sympathetic, largely due to the skill of the actors.

The minutiae of aging is also beautifully evoked through the hellish seniors’ city in Arizona and the grim everyday reality of a nursing home. The money grubbing relatives and the horror of not being able to afford somewhere just that little bit more pleasant. It being Oscar season, it should be noted that Linney has rightfully been nominated, and Hoffman probably would have been except that he is up for an Award for Charlie Wilson’s War. Tamara Jenkins is also nominated for her screenplay, which is very good, though it does have one major plot hole – we never find out what happened to Mrs Savage, who is presumably alive somewhere. The Savages is a sweet and honest film that deserves to find an audience.


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