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The Savages

"The Savages"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Tamara Jenkins

Director/writer Tamara Jenkins

Looking at a photo of director and screenwriter, Tamara Jenkins, one sees an old soul in this 45 year old woman.

And if there were ever two films to corroborate that, they'd have to be "The Slums of Beverly Hills," Jenkins' 1998 film with Alan Arkin and her newest picture, "The Savages," starring Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco.

The Savages, sister and brother Wendy and Jon (Linney and Hoffman), are anything but savage. They're ordinary, flawed, single, decent, middle-aged people living their ordinary lives when, suddenly, they must step up to the plate of responsibility to provide care for their aging father, Lenny (Bosco), who's suffering from dementia. Lenny's live-in girl friend, Lizzie (Jane Jaffe), drops dead in an Arizona assisted-living facility. There's no legal contract between the elderly couple to provide for Lenny. He's been living on Lizzie's money. Her son is not inclined to continue making the $acrifice for mother's companion.

Wendy and Jon set about to put their father in a home. It's to very un-Arizona Buffalo, New York the Savages move dad; near Jon's flat. He's on faculty at a small college teaching a, nowadays, 'irrelevant' subject. Wendy works as a temp secretary who secretly writes scripts. She has a dream. In his state, Lenny is quite unruly and believes his children are placing him in a hotel, not a retirement home.

Jenkins starts "Savages" with a smidge of stylization. Quiet laughter looks to be what to expect as her agenda. Nope, her old, knowing soul won't allow that. Remember "Slums of Beverly Hills"? Lots of laughs, but with an underbelly of serioso for the poor kids and their father who wants to keep them in semi-sleazy apartments right there in Beverly Hills so they can go to good public schools and associate with bourgeois young people: a little autobiographical on the part of Jenkins, as is this new one we're talking about.

Like "Slums," there's a lot more to "Savages," too; plus, Jenkins' new movie is much sadder. The effort to do the right thing for father really puts Wendy and Jon in a corner. Their flaws and anxiety become apparent even more so as the narrative moves on to the finish.

Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco

Laura Linney, Philip Bosco, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Prescription downers come into play in a poignant sort of way as the siblings seek some emotional relief from the task of 'taking care of business.' Moments of touching sentiment and gentle comedy span the arc of "Savages," but the reality of the lives being lived by this sister and brother, as well as their pop, keeps unhappiness the main entrée on the movie's menu.

I think what one takes into the theater to see "The Savages" makes for what is taken out. Candidly, my life of late has included many of the duties and emotions that Linney and Hoffman portray so exceedingly well; plus, I'm not very much younger than Bosco's Lenny. It was a bit like a double whammy from either side for me; hopefully, not for you. I required a short recovery period after seeing this fine film. Another way to say that would be: "The Savages" is very affecting cinematic art.

So, I do recommend it. Linney, Hoffman and Bosco are all terrific. It was 'fun' to see Bosco in this just after watching the curious and interesting lawyer character he played in the first season of FX's cable law thriller, "Damages." And I reiterate: Linney and Hoffman are just too good. Both turn in Oscar-caliber performances.

If you've seen "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead," compare the stretch Hoffman makes from Andy Hanson in it to Jon Savage in "The Savages" It's quite a distance. And of course, his turn as Tom Hanks' sidekick in "Charlie Wilson's War" is another marvelous turn for PSH.

That's why I admonished in my "Devil Knows You're Dead" review Philip Seymour Hoffman strikes thrice this fall as he charges into the Oscar nominations of early '08.

"The Savages" preview

"The Savages" official site at Fox Searchlight.
Opens in Tulsa in January.
Watch Yahoo Movies  for Tulsa theaters & times.
Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net
Copyright © 2007, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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