So many great little films are overlooked every year. Tamara Jenkins recent film "The Savages" is one such film. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, the picture about siblings who must work together to treat their dying father found a little recognition from the Golden Globes and Academy Awards with Hoffman, Linney and Jenkins each getting a nomination. Hoffman was nominated for best actor by those responsible for the Golden Globes and although they didn't win Oscars, Linney was recognized for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Jenkins for Best Original Screenplay. However, the film opened on December 2nd, 2007 and earned just $6.6 million before the end of its run in late April 2008. For a film that most have no clue exists didn't do bad, but this is one of those little films that everybody should sit down and watch at least once.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney portray two siblings who lead similar lives, but barely connect with each other over the course of their normal lives. Jon (Hoffman) is a drama professor in Buffalo, New York and has long dedicated his life to writing a book on German playwright Bertolt Brecht. He is single after sending his Polish girlfriend Kasia (Cara Seymour) home when her visa expires. Wendy (Linney) struggles to find her own identity and can barely survive as a playwright in New York City. Her only relationship is to a married man that is a dozen years older than her and she survives on a number of prescriptions to handle anxiety, depression and other medical problems. She is an attractive woman, but lacks self esteem.
The two are brought together when a late night call to Wendy brings to her attention that their father Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) has began to write words with his own shit on the bathroom walls, and as shown in the film scribes the word ‘Prick' in reference to the son of his long term companion, who has recently passed and now Lenny is no longer welcome in the home he has lived for so long and Wendy and Jon are asked to collect their father. Upon arriving at the hospital where their father is being kept, it becomes known that Lenny is suffering from dementia and is prone to violent outbursts and must wear adult diapers because he has difficulty controlling his own bowels.
After some time, Jon finds a nursing home for his father and Wendy moves to Buffalo to help get with her father and they agree to work together through the holidays to make the best of their father's final days. Jon and Wendy soon realize how similar they are to one another and they begin to butt heads and disagree on practically everything. Wendy does not feel her brother respects her and misleads him about earning a Guggenheim grant. Jon is proud of his sister, but feels betrayed when he realizes she has misled him. The two must come together as a family for Lenny's final days as they find their own faults through their siblings and come to terms with their own flaws and shortcomings.
"The Savages" is a two-sided film that looks at the discovery of family between Jon and Wendy and also looks at the great sadness and depressing times that befalls upon children when they must care for the final days of an elderly parent who has limited time left. Much of the film is about the relationship between the siblings and they are at first argumentative and cannot find an equilibrium to co-exist under the same roof. As they slowly realize how similar they are and help each other through the rough times of watching Lenny die, Jon and Wendy grow a strong bond and before the film ends, the two siblings are a tight pair who is very supportive of one another and no longer harshly critical of the others' flaws.
The film also looks at the painful topic of parental death and the hard choice of putting a parent in ill health into a nursing home to be cared for. This is a situation that is filled with sorrow, guilt and anger. It is a sad moment when a child can no longer care for a parent that raised them and helped them become the adults they are. And while "The Savages" provides hints that Lenny wasn't a particularly good father, Jon and Wendy are his children. They did not show a lot of compassion or tenderness towards one another and their father, but in the face of death and disheartening situations, the Savage children discover love for their family. The movie shows some of the decisions surrounding putting a parent into a nursing home and depicts many of the sad situations created when an elder person suffers from dementia.
Tamara Jenkins has woven a wonderful story and a masterfully created film that is strengthened by the talents of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. Her previous best film was the 1998 picture "Slums of Beverly Hills" and her work on "The Savages" easily bests that earlier picture. I found this film to be very entertaining and was moved by the powerful story it told. I have two handicapped brothers and the day is coming when the decision will be made as to whether or not to put them into a nursing home. It is a sad decision to make and I do not look forward to that day and this film reminds me that I will likely be the one to make that decision as my parents are in their mid Seventies and I'll soon take full responsibility for my brothers. "The Savages" is a marvelous film that missed the mass audiences of a full national release, but its availability on DVD makes it available to everybody. This is one of those independent films that deserve to be seen.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and "The Savages" looks the part of an independent film. The picture quality is rough and the film lacks the strong level of detail that is prevalent with major motion pictures. Camera work takes an almost documentary feel and the coloring is artistically subdued with hues that help accentuate the mood of the film as the story moves along. Overall, I was pleased with the amount of detail of this DVD transfer. It was sharp enough that I was not displeased with the look of the picture and after about five minutes of viewing "The Savages" I warmed to is slight stylistic look. Film grain is minor. The source materials are very clean. This isn't a movie that was intended to turn heads with visuals; it does so with story and the picture quality is more than enough to aid this great story.
Only two soundtracks are provided for "The Savages." The English language portion is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and Spanish speaking persons are given a 2.1 Dolby Digital Surround track. There is a little music beyond the Sun City West Rhythm Tappers in the opening credits and the musical score by Stephen Trask is warm and clean. Other than the music, this is a dialogue based film with a few environmental sound effects to give the film a little more depth than just the spoken word. It is the nature of the beast for "The Savages" to have minimalistic sound design. It is an independent film that is a character-driven drama. Dialogue is perfect. I never once had a problem understanding what was said and was very pleased with the relatively quiet sounding film. It is clean and that is what is important.
"Savages" contains roughly a half an hour of supplemental material. The talking-heads About the Savages (20:25) feature contains plenty of nice interview moments with writer/director Tamara Jenkins and stars Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco. There is some nice information about the general themes of the film, but a lot of time is spent patting each others' backs and reminding us of what we already know; that Linney and Hoffman are very good actors. This is a promotional feeling featurette that is worth checking out only if you really loved the film. Two Extended Scenes are also included. Sun City West Rhythm Tappers Uncut (3:28) is a longer sequence from the opening titles and is unique in tone. Two of a Kind Uncut (4:15) is some singing fun. A few Directors Snapshots and some trailers for five other films ("The Family Stone," "Music Within," "The Onion Movie," "Network Bones" and "Bonneville") round out the bonus offerings.
"The Savages" is a very good film. I had not even heard of the film prior to the Academy Award nominations and missed out on the initial opportunity to review the film when it was first released to DVD. However, I was interested with a trailer provided on another Fox DVD release and requested a screener. I am very happy that I looked into reviewing this film because it is the best movie I've watched in at least two months. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a very talented actor and Laura Linney and Hoffman are both brilliant in this film. Tamara Jenkins has written a very good story and perfectly directs her creation. This independent film does not make for the most impressive DVD release. It lacks the vibrant sound and video of big-budget releases and is a little thin on supplements, but the movie itself makes this DVD well worth the purchase price.