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The Savages | Review

Show us that you Care: Jenkins displays a new found maturity in family drama.

There are some unexpected surprises in life to look forward to, and then there are those where you’d rather no anticipate – such as a diaper change for your own parents. A joust between heartbreak and humor, The Savages boosts strong performances from Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and offers a varied palette of memorable sequences that aren’t caricatured such as those in her previous outing The Slums of Beverly Hills. Best described as an adult’s coming-of-age, Tamara Jenkins’ dissects isolation with vexation, but in the same moment nurses her title character back to health. Fox Searchlight should market to those who appreciate the banality of reality.

As the informational video brochure explains – after our parents have taken care of us, what happens when the roles are reversed and we need to take care of them? Jenkins’ original screenplay candidly visits a pair of siblings who must come to terms with not only in the present, but the past as well. Extricating themes of ageism, mental illness, (more specifically dementia), the emotional center of the film deals specifically with the “damaged childhood” syndrome – the sort that enables one’s ability to naturally have that loving bond with others. Difficulties of being affectionate ensue and reaching out for a support system is symbolically addressed.

Following a timeline that spans from the point of admitting their parent in an institution to the end point of receiving that dreaded, but appreciated phone call that the final moment has arrived, Jenkins is mostly interested in the female’s perspective – viewers learn why pill popping and lying are part of the coping process and auto-defense systems. With a guilt complex as the top dessert item on the menu, since her brother manages to do a better job at putting his emotions in a filing cabinet, the process very much becomes ‘her problem’, and Linney excels in both the comedy and dramatic form. Hoffman isn’t a crutch but the realist of the two often claiming that nursing homes are places that smell and where souls rot.

Jenkins does a great job at highlighting the resentment and a tremendous lack of approbation. The mid life crisis and the tone of the film resembles that of an Alexander Payne journey – Payne happens to be a part of this confection as producers – but unlike the Cali wine valley tours – no one will be itching for a Buffalo visit any time soon. The characters are rich in emotional detail – but unlike Sideways, the dramatic overtures fuel the film. Scenes like a humiliating experience inside the middle aisle of a full loaded plane and a reality bites shouting match between brother and sister make for impressionable slices of life.

The closing sequence is not that of a lingering still shot of an empty hospital bed (though this does occur) but rather, Jenkins readies the heroine for an apt and apropos safer landing. Geographically interesting and visually appealing, it is the fine performances from the top two actors that give this film such a strong identity. A charming depressing film that might make your toes curl.

Reviewed on January 20th 2007 – Sundance Film Festival.

Rating 3.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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