out of Five
Running time: 114
Emotionally engaging, sharply written and superbly directed drama with terrific performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills), The Savages stars Laura Linney as Wendy Savage, an aspiring East Village playwright who's having an affair with a married man (Peter Friedman) and working a series of menial jobs while applying, unsuccessfully, for a series of arts grants. She's never been especially close to her brother, literature professor Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but when their ailing, estranged father, Lenny (Philip Bosco) needs to be put into a nursing home, the Savages find themselves forced to live under the same roof and gradually rediscover their family ties.
Laura Linney is terrific as Wendy, creating a complex, awkward character who manages to retain the audience’s sympathy despite behaving in frequently appalling ways. Hoffman is equally good as Jon and the two actors spark off each other in genuinely interesting ways, while there's strong support from both Philip Bosco and Peter Friedman.
Jenkins' script is excellent, perfectly capturing both the complex nature of difficult family relationships and the importance of basic human contact. The writing is also commendably subtle in places, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the knock-on effect of their father's terrible parenting (e.g. Wendy's self-destructive affair and Jon's refusal to marry his Polish girlfriend).
In addition, the film smartly avoids the usual button-pushing cliches, particularly in regard to their relationship with Lenny. There's also a lot of spiky humour in the film, which provides some welcome relief, given the fairly gloomy subject matter.
In short, The Savages is a sharply observed, brilliantly written and ultimately extremely moving film with terrific performances from two of Hollywood's finest actors. Highly recommended.