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SAVAGES, THE(director/writer: Tamara Jenkins; cinematographer: W. Mott Hupfel III; editor: Brian A. Kates; music: Stephen Trask; cast: Laura Linney (Wendy Savage), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Jon Savage), Philip Bosco (Lenny Savage), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Jimmy), Peter Friedman (Larry); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Ted Hope/Anne Carey/Erica Westheimer; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2007)
“The excellent natural performances by Linney and Hoffman, make this a special film… .”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Tamara Jenkins (“Slums of Beverly Hills”) is the writer-director of this perceptively well-done sad-funny family drama of a dysfunctional family reuniting. The unmarried middle-aged siblings, Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) and her older brother Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman), trek to the sunny retirement community of Sun City, Arizona from their wintry East Coast homes to visit their now homeless father when informed by the caregivers that his longtime girlfriend suddenly died and her children are giving him the boot from the home she owned in the idyllic retirement community. Wendy rides back in the plane with the sibling’s estranged dementia ridden elderly father, Lenny (Philip Bosco), while Jon does the paper work to get him admitted into a modest nursing home in Buffalo near his home.

Wendy is a struggling unproduced playwright working a temp office job in Manhattan, a loving pet owner, kept busy applying for grants (turned down already a number of times) and trying to get her semi-autobiographical play published; while Jon has a doctorate in philosophy and teaches theater in the college, and is trying to get a book on Brecht published. Jon’s long-time Polish girlfriend returns to Poland when her visa expires and he can’t commit to marriage. The sibling’s father is a nasty and vulgar man, who is losing his wits (writes with fecal matter on the bathroom wall) and is unable to take care of himself due to be stricken with the early stages of dementia that is increasingly worsening. Mr. Savage was abusive to them when they were children, and the emotional scars he left on them is still damaging. Wendy frequently lies, steals office supplies from her firm and is locked into a ridiculous dead-end dullish romance with her 52-year-old married nice guy apartment building neighbor Larry (Peter Friedman). She has guilt feelings about dumping pop in a second-rate home; but Jon doesn’t have guilt-feelings, as he remembers vividly how his dad was abusive towards him and is fine with the “dad problem” being covered.

The unhappy siblings bond and though trading barbs work nicely together to get their dad settled down and wait for him to eventually die. It’s filled with pathos and a gallows humor to take the sting out of the bleak setting; the winsome realistic drama never becomes a downer, as it focuses in without sentimentality and full of affection for the siblings trying to find themselves and at the same time deal with their everyday problems–which are similar to the problems facing many Americans who have elderly parents. The excellent natural performances by Linney and Hoffman, make this a special film that warrants some attention for its brutal candor and its carefully worked out reasoned responses.

REVIEWED ON 11/25/2007 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”