The Savages

(2007) *** 1/2 R
113 min. Fox Searchlight. Director: Tamara Jenkins. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Cara Seymour.

Tamara Jenkins' dark comedy The Savages applies bracing wit to the problem of immature adults forced to grow up and take on roles of parental responsibility for rapidly infantilized parents. It's no accident that Jenkins names the childish grown-ups Jon and Wendy, in ironic evocation of Peter Pan, and it's a testament to her (Oscar-nominated) screenwriting acumen that she attracted Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney to play the siblings.

Forced to step up their game to care for their ailing father (crustily embodied by veteran actor Philip Bosco), Jon and Wendy nevertheless bicker incessantly, picking each other's not-so-small nits. Jenkins and her stars prove in sync in portraying deeply flawed and yet lovable characters. Both siblings must come to terms with their romantic neuroses and their issues with Dad and each other. For her part, Wendy is not above self-medicating with illegally obtained drugs:

Jon: What are those?
Wendy: Antidepressants. You should try some.
Jon: I'm not depressed.
Wendy: Please.

Hoffman and Linney bring a credible blend of ease and exasperation to the sibling relations, which show concern and competition in roughly equal measure. Despite Jon's exhortation "We are not going to have to go out there. We are not a Sam Shepard play," he and Wendy fly to surreal Sun City, Arizona to collect their widowed father and bring him back to cold, wintry New York. Their efforts to place him in a home resemble parents trying to get a kid into a good school (excepting perhaps the awkward moment when Jon harangues Wendy about facing the facts of death, right in front of an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman).

It's par for the course: the film's most dramatic moments are ever-prone to dark-comic turns, as when the hapless kids attempt, across a diner booth, to discuss "living will" arrangements with their father. Esoteric theatre professor Jon and "subversive" playwright Wendy eventually learn to see their predicament from the other side of a theatrical "fourth wall," but despite improved perspective, neither Jon nor Wendy gets any neatly bow-tying resolution. By the final fadeout, lessons have been learned but issues continue to linger. There's reason to hope, though: these Savages come out the end of the present tunnel seeming just a bit more civilized than before.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 4/22/2008

Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment

The Savages gets a humble special edition on DVD, built around a featurette of surprisingly dense detail: "About The Savages" (20:28). Tamara Jenkins, Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, executive producer Jim Taylor and producer Ted Hope explain how the various elements—from script to cast to score—came together to make one of the best-received films of 2007. Jenkins provides two "Extended Scenes": "Sun City West Rhythm Tappers Uncut" (3:29) and "'Two of a Kind' Uncut" (4:15). They present uninterrupted takes of the film's senior dancers and senior singers, respectively. "Director's Snapshots" is a gallery of shots taken mostly by Jenkins and partly by her husband Taylor. The disc also includes trailers for Juno, 27 Dresses, The Darjeeling Express, The Family Stone, Music Within, The Onion Movie, Bones, and Bonneville.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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