For about the first 20 minutes, The Savages has the making of a classic comedy about a pair of neurotic intellectual siblings who become unhinged when their elderly father develops dementia and they have to put him in a nursing home. Unfortunately, once they get him into homecare, the film loses some of its comic drive. Both Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, though, save the movie from sinking into total lethargy.
After a long absence, writer/director Tamara Jenkins returns to the screen after her biting debut comedy The Slums of Beverly Hills in 1998, a film that also carried the seeds of family dysfunction. In The Savages, Wendy Savage (Linney) is a failed playwright in New York City who makes ends meet doing temp jobs while sleeping with a married neighbor. Her brother Jon (Hoffman) is a theatre professor in Buffalo who is struggling along writing a tome on Bertolt Brecht and feeling ambivalent about his Polish immigrant girlfriend. Their father (Philip Bosco) is a cantankerous old coot who reminds the kids of their personal failings.
Linney continues to create wonderfully comic neurotics, playing a woman who doesn't feel that she's good enough, which still doesn't stop her from pretending that she's better than everybody thinks. Hoffman's quietly droll manner disguises a creative guy who, deep down, doesn't feel he deserves better things. But, while Bosco is initially disconsolately funny, the part becomes pretty much a one-note affair by the end. The Savages loses its comic edge, too, because of the story’s inevitability. Jenkins doesn't provide enough inspired invention for the plot, but at least the characters in this flawed diamond remain vividly engaging.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco
Director/Screenwriter: Tamara Jenkins
Producers: Ted Hope, Anne Carey and Erica Westheimer
Rating: R for some sexuality and language
Running time: 113 min.
Release date: November 28, 2007 ltd.