The Savages is a 2007 film featuring two of my favorite actors, Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as sister and brother Wendy and Jon Savage.
The estranged pair, both theater people, have been estranged for some time, both having suffered from parents who were never there for them. Wendy, a playwright, has even written a semi-autobiographical play about their father. She lives in New York working temp jobs and applying for grants and having an affair with a married man who will not commit to her. Jon lives in Buffalo and teaches Brecht at a college.
The two are forced to pull together when their father Lenny (Phillip Bosco), who lives in Sun City, Arizona, develops dementia at about the same time the woman he is living with dies. Over Wendy’s objections, Jon decides to place their father in a nursing home not far from where he lives. However, Wendy is assigned the unsavory task of accompanying the old man on a cross country flight to Buffalo.
Wendy and Jon must deal with their own personal issues, as well the incapacity of a man they once hated.
There’s no doubt that this is a “slice of life” movie and also an “actor’s drama.” Those types of movies do not have to be alienating in any way, especially when you have such incredible talent as Linney and Hoffman in the lead roles. However, I think that even the best slice of life movies must have a hand at the helm that will keep them moving in a direction and I felt that lacking in the script and direction of Tamara Jenkins.
After sleeping on the movie, I did realize that there is somewhat of a character arc for Wendy, but it was so subtle that I didn’t pick it up during the viewing—it only becomes apparent at the end. It is extremely difficult to see any kind of arc for Jon and yet he has changed at the end of movie, too. And I must say that Linney and Hoffman give wonderful performances. The characters are believable, the comedy is very funny, and the drama works extremely well.
I just had the feeling that I was spinning my wheels. The movie didn’t really seem to go anywhere. And yet, it had enough of an effect on me that I thought about it overnight and finally saw what I failed to see during the viewing—an actual character development for Wendy.
For fans of good acting, I highly recommend this movie. For those who cannot take the time to dig the subtlety out of the movie, you might find it tough going.