The Savages Apr 3, 2014 9:00:07 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Apr 3, 2014 9:00:07 GMT -5
The Savages (2007)
Directed by: Tamara Jenkins
Directed by: Tamara Jenkins
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in The Savages.
I don't think it has dawned on the cinephile community, or even the public, how much of a loss Philip Seymour Hoffman really was to the film industry and the world. Hoffman was an actor who could show us what it was like to be deeply-rooted in reality, giving us the most tender and affectionate performances of characters all across the board, truly defining what it means to be a great character actor. I've always loved the philosophy of acting Hoffman stood by, which is to make your lead character look a bit messy at times; maybe his hair wasn't properly combed, his shirt wasn't thoroughly ironed, or maybe he had an itch or was even sweating at times. All these little nuances likely to go unnoticed by most people, Hoffman emphasized and, in turn, would create a deeper character out of those. It was those tender little nuances that make characters incredibly more believable as humans.
Hoffman's philosophy was put to great use for Tamara Jenkins' The Savages, an upsetting but extremely well done film I instantaneously thought would've been put into the hands of known dramatist and director Alexander Payne. It wasn't until the closing credits revealed to me that Payne was the sole credited producer of The Savages. In addition, further research led me to find that Jenkins is married to Jim Taylor, the longtime business partner of Payne, who was no doubt contacted by Taylor in order to get financial backing for his wife's project. Cinema has vast ways of coming full circle.
The film centers around two grown-siblings Jon and Wendy Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney), who are brought together after they receive a call that their father Lenny (Philip Bosco), a man quickly falling prey to dementia, has been writing obscenities on the wall of his home in his own feces. Lenny still has the luxury of living at home, but after this uncomfortable and peculiar episode, both Jon and Wendy must now try to face two demons - coming to terms that their dad may be approaching his final days and needs to be put in an assisting living community, as well as trying to look past the fact that their father neglected them quite a bit as kids, which may justify both souls being emotionally broken in the present. Jon is a doctor of philosophy, currently working as a professor of drama and theater, while Wendy is a disillusioned playwright, fighting to get work.
The Savages deals with these difficult things in life with the tender focus the subject deserve. The characters are never put in a place where they simply exist for comic relief or to poke fun at the issues at hand; Jenkins gives these characters a lot on their plates and, in turn, rewards them with human sensibilities and believable reasoning to eventually arrive at a decision. First and foremost, it must be said that Hoffman and Linney have a unbelievable chemistry together, so much so that believing the two are siblings wouldn't be such a stretch. The way they talk on the phone, the way they interact in public, and the way they go about dealing with issues that arise from dealing with their father's bouts with old age all feel authentic, with conversations existing not to extend the length of the film or just to provide insignificant banter, but to try and grapple with the problem in a realistic manner. They have that kind of chemistry and conversational naturalism you find in two people that have been friends for decades and, even when they haven't spoken in months, maybe even years, when they are reunited, they still possess that same sort of captivating spirit in their exchanges.
It may seem that I'm emphasizing the fact that this film is more drama than comedy way more than I should be, but consider the first scene of the film, where we see Lenny write obscenities on the wall in his own feces. Imagine if Jenkins decided to take a more comedic approach, with one of the siblings laughing, making jokes about it, or what-have-you. The film would've likely been irredeemably mean-spirited and crass to the point of being impossible to take seriously, not to mention having odds to tack on some petty moralizing at the end that would've been completely out of line and cheap after what we just witnessed. Instead, Jenkins knows this material is not funny and needs to be handled with a delicate, intimate touch, one more focused on honest conversations nobody really wants to have instead of dialogs designed solely to evoke a few chuckles.
Consider the scene when Jon and Wendy are arguing in the car, with their father in the backseat. Even though his dementia is slowly consuming him, he understands a violent tone of voice when he hears it. He knows his children are at their wit's end, frustrated, angry, and miserable and it's all because of him. In response, rather than yelling at his children, he turns his hearing aid off in order to mute the deafening screams of his children.
Or perhaps take a look at the film's best scene, where Jon, in a brutally honest tone, screams at Wendy for being way too oppressive when it comes to picking the right nursing home, ejecting their father from one place to visit another, completely eliminating all ability for him to get comfortable and adjust. Jon reveals the truth about nursing homes that I have held onto ever since I was young, visiting my grandmother in one who was confined to a wheelchair. He explains how the freshly-cut grass, the beautifully-planted flowers, and the antiseptic appearance of the building's exterior gives the look to passersby and only temporary visitors that this is a beautiful, happy place. However, these carefully-calculated little decorations only obscure the fact that people die in these buildings and that the death occurring in the particular building is a miserable, excruciatingly painful, merciless bout of torment that bears the unpleasant look of a morgue and smells of nothing but Ensure and rotten stink. Hoffman delivers this monologue with incorruptible power, as it should be and as we have come to expect with him.
The Savages is not a happy movie experience, and for that I see it being written off by far too many people who do not crave an upsetting experience. That's their own prerogative I do not have the energy to criticize at the moment. The only thing I know is that sheltering off a film like this - especially seeing as it is very good and deeply rooted in honesty and realism - shows that one is fearful of what the future may bring in the regard of age, senility, and inevitably, death. I'm a teenager and I found ways to connect to this film and embrace its message and its events. Come on, now, you can too.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, and Philip Bosco. Directed by: Tamara Jenkins.