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The post title is a question Laura Linney’s Wendy Savage asks someone who read her play. A similar question can be asked about The Savages. Yes, it is a bunch of middle class whining, but it isn’t just that. It’s a comment on modern, distant families. It’s a look at the class of the medicated, over-educated, and self-involved. And it’s absolutely terrific.

Of course that shouldn’t be surprising since it starts Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two of the best actors in the business today. They play self-absorbed siblings Wendy and Jon who live in New York City and Buffalo, respectively. Both are struggling with their art: she on a semi-autobiographical play and he on a book about playwright Bertolt Brecht. Their distant lives are reunited when their father’s health begins to decline at a retirement community in Arizona. From there they must work together to get him back east and secure him the care he needs.

The magic of The Savages comes through the characters, who are realistic and complex but quite flawed. Jon is a pretty selfish guy who slogs away at his book and teaching theater of the absurd but won’t marry his long-time girlfriend to prevent her from being deported. Wendy is needy for attention, which manifests itself in lying and outbursts of emotion, and is in a relationship with a married man. Both are prone to easing their distress pharmaceutically and both feel stuck in their lives. But these aren’t the type of lost characters-of-a-certain-age we’re used to seeing in the movies. They don’t fit into easy types and they certainly don’t stare out windows forlornly.

So we have these interesting, flawed characters and put them into a heart-wrenching plot. They struggle with what to do with their father as he slides into dementia: they fight each other, they fight the guilt of sending him away, and they fight their demons over helping a man who was rarely a positive influence in their lives. And they also fight because they are very competitive, selfish, stubborn siblings who are in the same general academic field. The film, more than anything, centers on their relationship and it’s one I found to ring very true. They absolutely love each other but their interactions are often combative and both are quick to fling a barb at the other. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Savages falls squarely into the second tier of the list of my favorite movies from 2007. I disclose this fact just because I need to rag on the movie a bit. You see, The Savages really should have made its way into the top tier. So, in a sense, it is a disappointment.

Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are great, as usual. My thoughts on acting aside, if you have a character-driven movie about middle-aged people, I have to imagine these two will be at the top of your wish list. It almost isn’t even noteworthy at this point to remark on their performances. I won’t be heartbroken if Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t get a nomination this year, for two reasons. First, having won so recently for Capote, the Academy is reluctant to give him another nod so soon, by their warped, if relatively consistent, logic. Second, while PHS’s three performances this year may combined be worthy of a nod, there isn’t one that absolutely cries out for a nomination.
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This was a great movie.  I had no idea what to expect going in, but I came out thoroughly enjoying this film.  Brian actually had the same sentiment as I did leaving the theater, namely, for what it set out to accomplish it was nearly flawless in its execution.  In fact, Brian does a very good job in his review of the piece, so I’ll just jot down a couple of things I also noted during the movie.  (Note to self: In future, pick people you disagree with more when writing a blog.  Agreeing with people is much less satisfying than criticizing them.)

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To be blunt, I really liked this movie. For what it aimed to accomplish, The Savages was close to flawless in its execution. Everything from the writing, the acting, the tone, the camera work, hit the right note, which is somewhat ironic as the music choices were at times bizarre, and thus the only minor criticism I’d make. As two siblings forced to deal with their father’s rapid downward spiral towards death, Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are so genuine in their conflicted emotions and seem so true to real life.

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