The Savages (Fox, 2007) D: Tamara Jenkins, w/ Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NN
The Savages offers Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two of the best actors working today, well-developed characters and ample room to play them.
Wendy and Jon Savage are the not quite estranged but distant brother and sister who re-enter each other’s lives when they have to place their father, who’s developed dementia, in a nursing home.
Linney has the showier role. Wendy’s a temp worker and unpublished playwright carrying on an affair with a married man. A pill-popping bundle of neuroses, she desperately competes for her father’s approval. Jon, a literature professor, is screwed up in a quieter way. Neither of them relates well to other people, especially each other. New York stage actor Philip Bosco brings enormous presence to his role as their father. He has little to do most of the time but can steal a scene without blinking.
It’s clear that Linney and Hoffman are having a ball. They talk about their similar approach to acting in the brief and not particularly informative making-of doc. Sadly, they don’t go into detail.
Writer-director Tamara Jenkins claims she wanted realism. That explains why the movie is more narrative than drama. There are arguments and revelations, but they don’t provide any forward motion. The Savages buries its drama in references to Dad’s abusiveness and in a six-months-later coda that suggests how his death has affected the siblings. That may be realistic, but it makes the movie sag badly in spots.
EXTRAS Making-of doc, extended scenes, director’s snapshots. Widescreen. English, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.