Meet Wendy: Wendy is a struggling, middle-aged, New York playwright portrayed by Laura Linney who sleeps with a married man resembling James Taylor, and whose Ob-Gyn’s office is good enough to call just to let her know her pap is normal. She enjoys spending time with her cat and writing the world’s shortest-ever Guggenheim Fellowship application letters.
Meet John: John is an adequately successful, middle-aged college drama professor played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who is at work on a Brecht book (because no one’s writing those) and in the process of breaking up with his Polish girlfriend. He enjoys his soon-to-be-ex-lover’s homemade breakfasts, and being rejected repeatedly by the Guggenheim Foundation.
Gosh, you’d never know they were siblings, would ya? But there they are: thrown together for the first time in what appears to be years when their virtually absent father is suddenly homeless and diagnosed with dementia in The Savages; now they’ve got to decide how to care for the father who cared little for them.
Director-writer Tamara Jenkins’ first feature film since Slums of Beverly Hills, The Savages features (in addition to its two headlining stars) the talented actor Philip Bosco in the role of Wendy and John’s father, Lenny Savage. Not only does he completely disappear into this role, bringing great depth and dignity to a character that could’ve been played for laughs, his disposal to impropriety has proved fellow Current critic Brian Villalobos right: 2007 was the Year of the Unfettered Wang. `See “‘Diving Bell’ is an impressionist masterpiece,” January 16-22, 2008.`
Had The Savages only followed through to the retirement-home placement, we might have ended up with something in the same spirit as Little Miss Sunshine, but Jenkins doesn’t let us off that easy, instead drawing the viewer in with her awkward humor, her surreal dancers-among-the-foliage opening montage, then shilling the tough love once we’re invested.
The music by Stephen Trask is beautiful; the slow pans and static shots by cinematographer W. Mott Hupfel III are simple but effective; set designers Chris Keating and Carrie Stewart get the homes of the elderly and the apartments of the creative-underpaid so right. I think it goes without saying that Phil and Laura do their part.