THE SAVAGES (Tamara Jenkins). 113 minutes. Rating: NNNN
That title says it all. Siblings Wendy and Jon Savage (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) squabble about taking care of their estranged father (Philip Bosco), who’s old, suffering from dementia and suddenly without a home. Caring for him reopens past wounds and makes the siblings re-examine their own feelings and failings vis-à-vis their dad and their fucked-up relationships.
Writer/director Tamara Jenkins (Slums Of Beverly Hills) faces mortality head on in a pitch-perfect film that makes us laugh at its unsettling, uncomfortable truths. In some ways The Savages is like the dark flip side of Away From Her. You’ll find it impossible not to squirm with funny-horrifying discomfort during a restaurant scene where the two kids discuss possible funeral arrangements with their uncomprehending father.
Jenkins’s use of period music adds a lovely counterpoint to the cathartic contemporary battles, and she captures the depressing Buffalo winter with chilling precision.
As for Linney and Hoffman – she’s an aspiring playwright, he’s a coldly clinical prof who specializes in Brecht – could there be a more believable, or funnier, pair of rival siblings? Every sigh, shrug and petty outburst hits home hard. Acting doesn’t get better than this.
Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman might squeeze into that fifth spot on the lead actress and actor lists, and writer Tamara Jenkins could get an original screenplay nod.