The Savages is one of those dark comedies which nails a perfect balance between sad and funny, but make no mistake, at times, this is a painful movie to view, as it examines the loss of a parent’s faculties in an upfront and explicit manner. Why has it taken writer/director Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills) a decade to get her next film made (she’s got Private Life set for release later this year)? As usual, Philip Seymour Hoffman was great – when was he not? But it was Laura Linney who stole the entire show. In movie after movie, performance after performance, Linney has proven to be an exceptional actress, absolutely one of my favorites. I submit the following titles: Dave, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Primal Fear, The Truman Show, You Can Count On Me, The Mothman Prophecies, Mystic River, Love Actually, P.S., Kinsey, The Squid and the Whale, Breach, John Adams, Hyde Park on Hudson, The Big C, and The Fifth Estate. She’s appeared in even more than that, and each time, she’s been fully committed, extremely emotional, and always engrossing to watch.
In The Savages, I’m tempted to say she provided us with her best performance yet, and in my opinion, that says a ton about her work as an actress. Every time Linney appears in something, whether it’s on the small or big screen, the material is instantly elevated, and she’s got this interesting mix of sass and smarts, and sex appeal without being too “much” with any one particular thing. I’m a huge fan. The film, which has Hoffman and Linney playing brother and sister, is an extremely sharp and poignant story about siblings who have to take care of their ailing father after the death of his girlfriend. Their dad, a tough old S.O.B. played to perfection by Philip Bosco, is suffering from delusions and early Parkinson’s disease. It’s a brilliant performance, actually; never resorting to actor-ish ticks and convulsions or histrionics, Bosco downplays the physical, in favor of the emotional.
And the results are devastating, yet somehow never fully depressing. It’s all in the fine details, and this film is a subtly tricky one in terms of overall tone; you’ll have to see it to know what I mean. There’s no guns or car chases or explosions or bad guys or plot contrivances that get you to the next scene. It’s not glossy or slick, as Jenkins favors chilly winter and gloomy skies over a Michael Bay sunset finish. But this is a film that’s generously written, honestly acted, and modest yet strikingly confident with its direction. And it’s also extremely funny, which helps, because at times, it’s a spoonful of tough love medicine that many, many people will find too close for comfort. But as cinema, The Savages is a small gem, and a film clearly made because everyone involved felt an inherent need and desire to make it happen.
Review by Nick Clement