(2007) dir. Tamara Jenkins
The Savages is a family dramedy about dealing with a parent with dementia, coping with estrangement, self, and many other things. Oddly, it reminded me to an extent of a sort of female Noah Baumbach story, a New York middle-class tale of family, in which the characters are talented and intelligent, though plagued by emotional traumas of different kind. Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale (2005) is more of a backward glance, and in some ways, much more funny. The Savages, written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, centers the story around Laura Linney’s character, a 39-year old woman from a broken middle class family who aspires to be a playwright, yet is stymied in her self in her relationships and profession.
Jenkins previously made The Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), which I remember liking quite well. It was also about a dysfunctional family, and I remember it being pretty funny. It’s not that The Savages needs to be funny. How funny is the slow descent of an elderly family member into dementia and death? Certainly, I think, this is a topic that many can probably relate to or prescribe with fear as to something that may eventually occur to loved ones.
The film is good, though not profoundly good. Linney is lovely, neurotic to an extent, directionless, and mildly adrift. As her brother, Philip Seymour Hoffman is typically strong. As a professor and Brecht scholar, he too is damaged by his childhood, but overall more realistic and successful.
While Jenkins does a lot with showing the environs of the characters (the surreal suburbia of Sun City, AZ or the freezing drabness of Buffalo, NY), there just isn’t a lot more to say. It’s a good film. Not extra-special, but good.