Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as John and Wendy Savage

Apparently Tamara Jenkins’ first full-length feature, The Slums of Beverly Hills, didn’t pack enough star power for it to garner her enough recognition and get some notoriety for the outstanding debut. That movie sort of fell though the cracks, and although it has gained some quiet acclaim and more justice in the near decade since it’s release, the fresh talent and original voice that came from Jenkins’ work was not fully known to a more wide audience. It took nine years for us to finally receive a sophomore effort from the writer/director, and this time a bigger chunk of the movie-going world will not be able to go without noticing her gift of creating an outstanding balance between mundane comic environments and deeply familiar family situations. The reason her new film will bring her to a higher pedestal, called The Savages, is simply because audiences are naturally more and more attracted to credible star names, especially names that are on a roll at the time. In independent film, it is hard to argue against Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the most go-to for solid performances and most of the time outstanding choices of projects. And even though Slums might not have gotten the commercial recognition it deserved, it was obvious that Jenkins’ work was well-loved and respected by actors everywhere. I’m sure the parts of John and Wendy Savage were sought after by more names than just Linney’s and Hoffman’s. Once you see this film, you’d never be able to picture anyone else playing these terrifically written and performed characters.

It is apparent in the opening scene, featuring Philip Bosco as the aging Savage father, that Jenkins has not lost her trademark style of making us laugh in the strangest of situations. When their father is basically run out of his girlfriend’s house by her kids after she passes away, John and Wendy Savage must travel across the country from New York to Arizona to find a place for him to live. They have little to no relationship with each other, but it is far more close than that of what they have with their dad, who they haven’t spoken to in a very long time. They are the kind of adults that lack that little something that you get only if you were parented in any decent kind of way growing up. Wendy is the more caring of the Savage siblings, but is in total denial of everything that is crumling in her personal and professional life. She has to do some major persuading to even get her brother to come with her to Arizona. John is a university professor that has problems as well, just in a slightly different manner than that of his sibling. Linney and Hoffman are remarkable as usual, and their chemistry together works even better than one would assume going into the film, for they seem like they could easily be brother and sister in real life. I believe that Hoffman is one of the five greatest actors working today, and will most likely beone of the best to ever live by the time his days end, and he is simply brilliant as John. What is most impressive about this film, however, is the performance of Linney as Wendy, which is really the heart and soul of The Savages. She holds her ground so well opposite Hoffman, which is certainly a tough thing to do, and nearly steals the show with several scenes to display her talents. It is her best performance since You Can Count On Me, in my opinion, and should earn her some independent nominations across the board.

What really makes this a different, special and near-masterpiece of the downtrodden comedy genre is Jenkins’ knack for slightly disfigured, distinctive characters and dialogue that could only come from her pen. It is a more than welcome and overdue sophomore film, which I only consider overdue because I loved Slums to such a high level that nine days was going to be too long to wait for the next work, let alone nine years. Both of her films have extremely similar themes, focusing on the strange bond a family can experience when they’re least expecting to. Although each of her first two films do not reach the level of perfection, I can easily say that they are two treasures of mine personally, and will be singled out as poignant labors of love by an underrated filmmaker.

Rating: A
1 hour 53 minutes
Fox Searchlight


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2 Responses to “THE SAVAGES”

  1. Amanda Says:

    perfection review love. i really loved this movie. it was so real. i like how you said it seemed they were actually brother and sister, yeah, they are that good. And the writer really has such an amazing and original talent. i don’t think i’ve ever seen other movies that make me laugh in the way hers do. its crazy how you find yourself laughing and then can cry in the same minute. i love how its not just the steriotypical perfect family… its just real. and everytime i watch Laura Linney i can’t believe how awesome she is at acting. i love what you said about Hoffman too. its so true. i think he will be one of the greats in history to come and present. it was great getting to see this movie with ya 😉

  2. Ferguson Says:

    thanks so much for reading what i write. i love you, loved seeing this with you, and cannot wait to see many more with you!

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