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Tragicomic Savages is an emotional winner
Tragicomic Savages is an emotional winner
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

THE SAVAGES NOW PLAYING

Siblings Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Savage aren't exactly close. While the former is a struggling East Village playwright working as an office temp and having sex with her very married next door neighbor, the latter is a neurotic college professor writing books about obscure literary figures no one will ever read trying to make a go of it in Buffalo.

Then comes the phone call both were not-so-secretly dreading. It seems their father Lenny (Philip Bosco) is dying, slowly succumbing to the devastating dementia that's been constantly breaking his body down and tearing his psyche apart. Now the two of them must fly to his home in sunny Arizona and bring him back to the wintry wilds of New York, hoping they can find a nursing home that won't make them feel too despicable about dumping their only remaining parent into their care.

With their lives suddenly on hold both Wendy and Jon battle about the best way to handle their father's last days. While neither expects to reconcile with the man they long ago purposefully estranged themselves from, both writers can't help but want to treat him better at the end of his life then he ever did during the early stages of their own. What they discover is just how little each sibling knows about the other, this time together a great opportunity to reconnect (just as long as they don't rip out each other's throats in the process).

Wise, witty, moving, emotional and at times fitfully funny, writer and director Tamara Jenkins' The Savages is an eviscerating dramatic-comedy that left me stunned and speechless. For a while I didn't know quite what it was I had just experienced, each of the picture's nuances and motifs so close to the bone I'd almost felt like I'd lived this story right there alongside Wendy and Jon.

Yet like all great cinema, this one refused to evaporate from my mind. Each turn and every twist marinated inside of me, and more times than not I'd find myself pondering many of the central human queries evolving deep inside Jenkins' multifaceted melodrama. The film stuck, and even now almost a month later I can still savor and relish so many of the picture's minute delicacies as if I had just witnessed them for the very first time.

Don't confuse what I am saying here. This is pretty heady and at time aggressively downbeat stuff. The Savages is about the concept of death and how the coming of it affects children in every profoundly uncomforting dimension. It doesn't relent, it doesn't flinch and it doesn't pander. It is obsessed with telling it like it is and nothing more, and as dour and as depressing as that can sometimes be it isn't like life isn't above reveling in those very self-same emotions.

Thankfully, it is also not afraid to laugh. Levity and death may seem like an unlikely pair but comedy is many times born of tragedy and the film revels in that fact. More than once I found myself battling away tears through a muffled giggle, my gut twisting and turning from the combined one-two punch of the unflinching tragicomic dramatics Jenkins unflinchingly uncoils and the unique peculiarities that can make these times feel so silly and absurd. This is a movie to savor both for what it says as well as for its audacity to not resort to cliché or saccharine emotionalism, and by the time it was over what's left is so enthralling and invigorating the discussions it produces could very well last for days.

Both Linney and Hoffman are remarkable, each actor diving headfirst into a brother-sister pair bordering on the freakishly unlikable. Yet both actors humanize their characters, and while they don't ever soften any of the duo's more unnerving edges they make them so honest and true both Wendy and Jon begin to feel like long-lost friends we're only now becoming reacquainted with. This is character acting at its absolute best, both performers so borderline brilliant it wouldn't shock me in the slightest to see either of them walking the red carpet at the Kodak Theater come February.

But make no mistake, this is Jenkins' movie start to finish and the confident director guides her tale with energy and aplomb. Only her second feature (1998's The Slums of Beverly Hills being her last endeavor), the filmmaker outdoes herself the film containing nary a false beat or misstep. Certainly not for everyone, audiences with discerning tastes will find The Savages a brutally sensational romp impossible to resist.

Courtesy of www.moviefreak.com

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