' Cinema Romantico: The Savages

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Savages

I'd like to apologize in advance about autobiographical material entering this review but sometimes when you see a movie, well, you just can't help but think of your own life as it unfolds. See, when I was home for Christmas last week I found myself going to pick up my Grandmother and her quite literally not recognizing me and I glimpsed a potential future wherein I end up having to move my mother into my basement, a la Jerry Stiller in "King of Queens". So seeing "The Savages" dredged up a few things for me.

The movie opens with the old, constantly irritated, slowly-losing-his-mind Leonard Savage (Phillip Bosco) telling off the home healthcare worker of his live-in girlfriend. How does he tell him off? Uh....let's see....how do I put this delicately....he tells him off by using Something Which We Do In The Toilet to write the word Prick on the bathroom mirror. Not good.

So Leonard's kids Wendy (Laura Linney) and John (Philip Seymour Hoffmann) are notified of their father's, shall we say, erratic behavior. The first time we see Wendy she is in her cubicle at work typing up a letter in hopes of winning an artistic fellowship for her plays. As she writes she is continually looking over her shoulder with fear her boss may figure out what she's ignoring her work to actually do. (That's me, people! I'm always in my cubicle writing and looking over my shoulder!)

The kids flies down to Sun City, Arizona to see what must be done about their father. (Another digression: I, too, have been to Sun City and what you see here is in no way an exagerration. When I lived in Phoenix my aforementioned grandmother lived in Sun City and so, yes, I visited. I spent Christmas there and an Easter. Oh God, Easter. Ever been to an Easter dinner where it's just your 24 year old self and a bunch of people in their 80s and all the windows are closed so you're sweating fanatically and your grandmother keeps serving you coffee in spite of this and one of your grandmother's friends is forever railing about the illegal aliens - though that's not the term she's using, believe me - coming across the border and stealing all our jobs and you're wondering how in the world you forgot to pick up a six-pack on the way over? People may question the dancing old ladies you glimpse a couple times during the scenes in Sun City but I don't think that's a stretch. If you're there long enough you tend to hallucinate.)

Anyway, the movie....Wendy and John head west to gather up their father and move him back to Buffalo, NY and to a nursing home, or assisted living center, whatever you want to call it. That's the set-up and the rest of the movie deals with the kids dealing with the inevitability of their father's demise.

Linney and Hoffmann are two of our finest actors and both are very adept at externalizing their emotions but in "The Savages" it's all about internalizing. And what else would you expect from siblings whose lives center around writing, theater, and drama. She has a relationship....with a married man. He has a Polish girlfriend but she is about to get deported and despite that fact he's not about to marry her. But neither of them really discuss their problems out loud, not about their respective relationships or about their father or their childhood. They might even lie on occassion rather than deal with the truth. Emotions only boil over after they've been hanging around quite awhile.

If you write these sorts of characters you're counting on your actors to bring their "A" games and that is the case in this film. The reaction shots, facial expressions, all speak volumes. Hoffmann clearly plays John in such a way that you can see everything going on just below the surface but he refuses - except for every now and then - to let anything out. Linney has a moment at a diner with her brother and father where you catch her looking out a window as they discuss what needs to happen after their father dies. Again, that's me! That's me across the table from my Grandmother at the Drake Diner in Des Moines as she re-tells me something I've already heard 17 times and I look out the window as if there might be someone strolling along and sees me and sees I need to be saved.

"The Savages" is a movie primarily about character. Writer/Director Tamera Jenkins puts her characters in a certain situation and watches how they react. The movie steps wrong in a few places, admittedly, but I have no interest in dwelling on those moments. All I know is this was the exact movie I wanted to see on Saturday. And as it ended I realized there are many, many reasons why I'm glad this year is about to end but the quantity of quality movies is not one of them.

Speaking strictly in relation to cinema I wish to the high heavens that 2007 would never, ever end.


(Postscript: The actress who portrays Maggie Fitzgerald's wretched mother in "Million Dollar Baby" turns up for a single scene in this movie and before she had even said a word I hated her. I downright despised her with every fiber of my being. And I realized this actress - who in real life, of course, may be a wonderful person - will never get a fair shake with me for the rest of time. I will always loathe her. Forever. Even if she plays a saintly nun, I will want the saintly nun to fall off a bridge. Maggie Fitzgerald was the coolest of the cool. You f--- with her, you're f---in' with me.)

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