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'The Savages' Bites Down Hard
Family comedy goes for the throat
Brian Orndorf (briano)     Print Article 
Published 2007-11-30 09:03 (KST)   
©2007 Fox Searchlight Pictures
"The Savages" is a refreshingly real motion picture, portraying life as a desolate, self-inflicted nightmare that offers few moments of peace. It셲 a rusty film from Tamara Jenkins, the bright filmmaker who was last seen with 1998셲 delightful 쏶lums of Beverly Hills. The near ten-year absence from the big screen has provided mammoth inspiration, but a loss of directorial vision.

Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his sister Wendy (Laura Linney) are two stunted intellectuals leading messy lives overflowing with bad decisions. When their elderly father (Philip Bosco) isn셳 able to take care of himself, the siblings fly from New York to Arizona to pick him up and take him east. Settling him in a nursing home, Jon and Wendy are suddenly confronted with the prospect of taking care of a man who barely took care of them, inflaming their insecurities to a point of a no return.

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Jenkins has a wonderful eye and ear for the finer points of human misery. Her acute observation of Jon and Wendy셲 frustrations power most of 쏶avages, along with a curiosity for fall/winter weather blues, backdropping the movie in lovely, yet wholly oppressive ways. The film is a lengthy wrestling match with depressive attitudes and family bickering, and 쏶avages will surely be passed over when the annual 쏦appiest Movies of the Year awards are announced. It셲 a comedy of sorts, a drama of modest means... essentially an indescribable experience that plows through short bursts of laughs and aggravation, much like life itself.

Jenkins loves her characters, and she셲 willing to portray their unpleasant attributes to better process their motivations and reactions: a sharp directorial job in terms of sheer observation, but the lethargy of the piece of unmistakable. It셲 a character-driven film, yet Jenkins leaves perhaps too much unsaid, wallowing in despair instead of furthering the dimensions of the Savages, especially the father character. As much as it셲 a film of great nuance, 쏶avages could셶e benefitted from a little more focus; serious pacing problems become a major speed bump in the film셲 final 45 minutes.

While the film wanders, it셲 held together by Hoffman and Linney, who barrel through their obstruction-rich characters of Jon and Wendy. The interplay here is amazing; the actors pulling off the shades of sibling rivalry without punching any melodramatic buttons. Their exchanges are short, direct, and crawling with contempt, yet they셱e bonded by a common cause and spend the running time figuring out how to communicate with each other. Hoffman and Linney dig into the roles with aplomb, delivering two especially itchy, wounded performances that end up saving the film, giving it purpose Jenkins has difficulty locating on her own.

"Slums of Beverly Hills" was a fresh, hilarious family saga that took dark turns bravely. 쏶avages has the same integrity, but lacks the ideal clarity that best supports what is incredibly caustic material. It셲 a misfire for Jenkins, but an interesting failure.

©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Brian Orndorf

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