Combustible Celluloid
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With: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, David Zayas, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Cara Seymour, Tonye Patano, Guy Boyd, Debra Monk, Rosemary Murphy, Hal Blankenship, Joan Jaffe, Margo Martindale
Written by: Tamara Jenkins
Directed by: Tamara Jenkins
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language
Running Time: 113
Date: 01/19/2007

The Savages (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Home Unknown

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Tamara Jenkins, the writer/director of Slums of Beverly Hills (1998) finally delivers her sophomore effort, and she has gone straight to seniorhood. Her extraordinary new film The Savages reveals an abundance of talent that was scarcely noticeable in that previous effort. A pair of would-be writers, Proust scholar Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) find themselves in charge of their father, Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco). They travel to Sun City, Arizona to retrieve him and re-appear back in frigid, slushy Buffalo, checking him into a rest home. Wendy -- who resides in Manhattan and works temp jobs while applying for grants and writing a play -- decides to sleep on her brother's couch through the holidays to help with the transition. Sure, it's a pretty typical dysfunctional family comedy/drama, but Jenkins draws her characters so sharply and so expertly infuses them with their environments that it moves beyond genre and into life. The superb performances help smooth the bumps; the characters speak honestly, while always defending their own sore spots. Wendy feels guilty about the clinical rest home and wishes to find someplace nicer, while Jon cynically clings to reality; the nicer homes are only to ease the family's guilt. Jon himself has a Polish girlfriend, and when her visa is up, he lets her go. It's just easier. Jenkins gets maximum emotional energy from her backdrops, whether it's the sun-baked Arizona floor, or a bone-chilling Buffalo snowfall or the buzzing corridors of the rest home. In certain sequences, she even manages to comment, subtly and effectively, on the whiteness of this middle-class family. (Most of the attendants in the rest home are black.) It's an exemplary film, and far less depressing than it sounds.

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