The Savages Movie Review
Every year, I try to see the best films within a reasonable amount of time so that I can factor them in come end-of-year Top Ten lists - and so that I'm not the guy left out of some conversation about that "great movie" everyone had seen last weekend. Every year, though, a couple films slip through the cracks, and unfortunately the studios wait several months past award season to release them on DVD. Such is the case with The Savages, a movie that garnered yet another Oscar nomination for Laura Linney. It's not a great movie, but it is a very good one.
The Savages follows two siblings, neither of whom get along with each other very well. Wendy Savage (Linney) is an unsuccessful playwright and Jon Savage is a theater professor who has always been more successful. Having drifted apart over the years, the two find themselves thrust back together when their father (Philip Bosco) begins to show signs of dementia. While neither of them particularly like their father from years of neglect and emotional abuse, they find that they must overcome their reservations to care for a man who can no longer care for himself. Along the way, they also discover a newfound appreciation for one another.
Despite a rather serious story, writer/director Tamara Jenkins has crafted a witty, humorous screenplay that can, on a dime, turn any somber scene into a humorous one, generally without losing the emotional impact the scene is trying to convey. Real life, even in its most serious form, can be funny, and often finding humor in something sad is the best way to cope. The Savages tackles this approach wonderfully, making us feel for the characters while not depressing us with what otherwise would have been a pretty dull and somber picture. Jenkins was nominated for an Academy Award for her screenplay, and she deserved it.
The two lead actors deliver solid performances and are cast well for their parts. Both Linney and Hoffman are about as reliable of actors as they come, though the movie calls for subdued performances from the both of them. Thankfully, both adapt to the requirements of the story quite well, though it's not much of a stretch. Hoffman is his best when he gets to be a little zany, but as long as he is able to inject a little sarcasm or cockiness into his character, he can be quite effective. As for Linney, she is so used to playing these kinds of characters that it must come as second nature. She's a great actress, but I have to point out that there's a reason why she gets nominated for Oscars but doesn't win them; she tends to always play interesting but ultimately forgettable characters. She should get out of her comfort zone for once and do something completely different.
Bosco also does a great job as a man who seems to be moderately aware that he is losing his marbles.
The Savages is a well conceived movie. There's nothing incredible or especially memorable about it, but it's well written and acted. That's more than you can ask for from most films these days. The Savages is one of the top 20 films of 2007.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.