The Savages Review

From the archives, published September 1, 2008. Having just seen Tamara Jenkins’ “Private Life,” I was immediately interested in this movie only to discover I had, in fact, seen it before. Whoops. So I dug up this fairly pedestrian review from my very early days of writing about movies.

Films rarely capture real life, relatable moments, let alone with any kind of regularity, but Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages” does it. The terrific script is brought to life by two of the greatest actors working today in Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Savages” is a deeply human drama that focuses on one of the more difficult aspects of aging and family, but with a natural sense of humor all the same. But it’s not devoid of artistic touch either. Jenkins puts some serious thought into her directing and like most (good) films written and directed by the same person, even the smallest of ideas and themes come out of this film.

Linney and Hoffman play two middle aged siblings (Wendy and Jon) who had little to no parental influence in their lives, so when they find that their father, who has been on the other side of the country for over 20 years with a woman that wasn’t their mother, is suffering from dementia, they must find a new living situation for him. 

The drama centers around these two sibling who are struggling enough to find direction in their own lives, let alone being able to help their estranged father. Their relationship is touching and so profoundly real on screen in a way that only these two incredible actors could do. Honestly, there are few better real-life and also versatile actors working right now.

Jenkins deserves the applause too, however. In addition to a scarily real script, she adds several touches to the film itself with her directing, playing a lot with the rhythm of the film, speeding certain parts up for dramatic effect and slowing others down to elicit more reflection from the viewer. The film does feel long for only being a couple hours, but it’s not enough to really hurt the honesty and truthfulness of this film.

Even for those that can’t directly relate to having to make important decisions for a parent who can no longer make them for themselves, this film finds great poignancy. The entry point is with the protagonists as we relate to their busy and unfruitful lives and contemplate how we would respond in their situation. Wendy is the more emotional one who feels guilty while Jon is more level-headed and practical about it. It’s a great dynamic and one which both actors thrive with.

This is one of those family, life-like dramas that really hits it on the head with a particular aspect of life at its most relatable. It even uses the fact that Wendy wants to stage a play based on her childhood and relationship with her father to have Jenkins state her concern as to whether the film comes across as “middle class whining.” The answer is that it doesn’t. The struggles in these characters’ lives are too real and founded in the natural truth about relationships.

4.5/5 Stars

The Savages
Written and Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney


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