“We’re not in therapy now- we’re in real life.”
In the darkest of clouds, a silver lining can be found if one looks hard enough. The Savages are a family, made up of freelance writer Wendy Savage (Laura Linney), drama professor Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and their father Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco), showing early but rapidly developing signs of dementia. When Lenny’s girlfriend dies, her family, refuses to take care of him anymore.
This forces his kids, abused and neglected when they were younger, to get back into not just his life but each other’s lives as well. Facing the inevitable of their father passing away simultaneously forces the siblings to re-examine their lives, facing their personal struggles and demons along the way.
Two stellar thespians in Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Seymour, along with an old steady hand in Philip Bosco should make for a compelling movie, right? Not exactly. The Savages, as one might expect, is a well-acted production, but unsupported by a lackluster script. It all adds up to a simple feeling of “meh.”
I have to admit, I am likely not the target audience for this film which in all likelihood shapes my thoughts on it. Surely many people of different ages have experienced the themes of loss and having to provide care for elderly ones, but the target audience appears to skew towards older adults who can relate a bit more to the story. It isn’t so much a story about facing the last few moments of a family members’ life as it is a story of two people, in this case siblings, rallying around a sad situation to become closer.
It is all supposed to be sad and touching, but for yours truly, little of it was felt, perhaps because of how predictable and formulaic it is from the beginning. Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, outside of some commentary on nursing homes/clinical care, not a lot is being said that hasn’t been said before about family dysfunctionality and deteriorating health. It is a late November/early December piece of cinema, meaning that much of what occurs here feels like it exists for one reason.
If it were just billed as a drama, some disappointment would still be had but not as much if this was solely a drama. But since this is also billed as a comedy, however, not seeing that come to fruition serves as the biggest downer of The Savages. I envisioned a somewhat dark comedy dealing with mature themes, and all that was present were the mature themes, leading to a depressing and not-all-that-interesting of a film.
As long as great workers like Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are lending their talents, it is hard to imagine that whatever they appear in cannot be an utter failure. The two are believable as brother and sister, even if the script doesn’t give them a ton to work with. Their roles are more understated and less “charactery” than some of their other credits, but both, especially PSH, excel at playing people who are not just dealing with an unfortunate life-altering scenario, but people who are at a major crossroads in their own lives. They do get the chances to deliver memorable dramatic moments, but the main beauty is seeing the two just be regular, everyday humans.
If a comparison to a recent and fairly similar production could be made to The Savages, think of This Is Where I Leave You. A talented, all-star cast can keep a feature at a middling level without any help, but performances alone don’t comprise a great film.
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