Sunday, March 2, 2008
Movie: The Savages
I saw The Savages with good friends. [Directed by Tamara Jenkins. Starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Nominated for 2 Oscars: Best Actress - Laura Linney, Original Screenplay - Tamara Jenkins] John and Wendy Savage bring their father to New York to put him in a nursing home. John is a depressed Bertolt Brecht scholar and Wendy is a depressed out-of-work playwright. Like bare scars from their shabby upbringing, they are unable to have healthy relationships. Each is plagued with emotional and physical trauma for which they self-diagnose and self-medicate. The task of caring for their ailing father seems too much for this pair to manage.
The subject matter here seems upsetting and negative. And in the wrong hands, this certainly could be a dismal mess and/or an irreverent treatment of sensitive events. Mrs. Jenkins' and her magnificent actors manage to create charm and humor in moments of discomfort, anxiety, and sadness. PSH plays a softer version of his typical presentation; entertaining as usual. The audience creates a bond with Laura Linney more than anyone. I found myself defending and encouraging her, and then being crushed when she didn't tell the truth, and uneasy whenever she breached propriety. The father character is basically a cypher, and the actor plays his part well.
This is Mrs. Jenkins' second feature length film. I was very impressed by her writing and direction to the point of being surprised. Then I saw that Alexander Payne was one of the executive producers and it all became clear. I've been impressed by everything Mr. Payne has directed over the past ten years.
(The seasoned fans of "The Wire" should also recognize the actor from that show who plays the hit man, Chris Partlow. In this movie he plays a Jamaican-sounding Nigerian nurse. Very nice.)