The Savages

Mark Fellman/Fox Searchlight Pictures
Tamara Jenkins/United States 2007

The Savages, written and directed by Tamara Jenkins (The Slums of Beverly Hills), is about a brother and sister coping with their dying father. The film deals with family relationships. Predictably, the character with the physical or mental predicament is arguably the sanest person in the film, only serving to highlight others’ shortcomings. The film does not reinvent the wheel by any means. Does this mean it lacks entertainment? Certainly not.

The Savages is a good film, but not a great one.

Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) has dementia. It rests upon his son Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and daughter Wendy (Laura Linney) to care for him. They must move him to a nursing home. Although Lenny is the catalyst for the events of the film, Jon and Wendy push the film forward. Their interactions and arguments comprise the plot. Jon has a girlfriend whose green card has expired but he does not want to marry her, so she must return to her native Poland. Wendy sleeps with a married man, but she is unhappy. Who has more problems? Lenny has dementia but is happy. Wendy and Jon are sane, but are unhappy.

The characters are well-constructed and the film trusts them. The script (also written by Jenkins) never tries too hard to convince the audience of the characters. Wendy is the kind of person who signs the sympathy card in the car while parked in street. When Jon learns that Lenny cannot stay in his present home, he slowly lets go of the sympathy balloon and walks out. As single incidents, they may seem inconsequential, but when the quirks start piling up, they amount to a fully-developed character. There are just enough details that allow us to connect the dots.

There is a title card near the end of the film signaling a passage of time. It appears at a curious moment – the moment where the expectation is that this would be the time where Jon and Wendy would realize the state of their lives. The expectation is that Jon and Wendy will change their lives, but the film skips over the transformation stage. It moves into their new, upgraded selves. However, Jenkins handles this epilogue well. Once again, Jenkins explains how the characters developed. Apparently, Lenny was not the best of fathers. But his dementia is the best thing he could have done for his children – inciting inspiration.

© 2007 Charley McLean. All rights reserved.

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