Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Savages (2007, Tamara Jenkins)

If nothing else, The Savages should be considered a success because it acknowledges something that the syrupy romantic tragedy Away From Her did not- that the elderly are not simply wise and brave and saintly, but complicated humans whose bodies are beginning to fail them and whose proximity to death can be frightening. That Jenkins refuses to sanctify the "golden years" the way many films do is the most noteworthy aspect of The Savages. Beyond that, this is a pretty good movie that works largely by virtue of its modest charms. For one thing, Jenkins never tries to make this a universal story about siblings reuniting to care for a dying parent. The characters- schlubby professor John (Philip Seymour Hoffman), neurotic would-be playwright Wendy (Laura Linney), and father Lenny (Philip Bosco)- are too specific for that. Thus, freed from the need to make a larger statement with her story, Jenkins considers these three people, placed into this awkward situation. The Savages is never the stuff of heightened melodrama- there are no medical procedures, no third-act confessions, no tearful bedside farewells. In fact, Lenny is kept offscreen altogether for most of the film. Instead, the main crux of the story is the contentious relationship between John and Wendy, whose troubles and resentments can't be put on hold while their father's condition worsens. I can't quite embrace The Savages wholeheartedly- the film's too low-key to really be more than pretty good- but it's definitely worth a look. Rating: 6 out of 10.

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