The Savages

Laura Linney and Gbenga Akinnagbe in The Savages (dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007).

Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I hadn't seen this when I made my Top Ten Films of 2007 list; it might have squeezed in at no. 10 or 9. I don't know about you, but I always get at least a little amusement out of films about typical, whining, privileged middle-class writers who worry that they're typical, whining, privileged middle-class writers. I see it as an allegory about the filmmaker. I know, I know, I'm full of stunning insights.

Laura Linney plays the writer--a playwright, to be precise--who tries repeatedly to get governmental grants, and finally resorts to a sketchy substitute (I won't give it away, as it's one of the movie's rimshots). She's a slightly dishonest neurotic in an unsatisfying relationship with a married man, and her brother (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an emotionally repressed Brecht scholar with a Polish girlfriend who's leaving the country because her Visa is expiring. (Will there ever be a character in one of these movies who's a literary academic and not also emotionally repressed?) Their father is beginning to suffer from dementia, and his girlfriend of twenty years dies, so they have to fly him from Arizona to New York and put him in a nursing home. As you would imagine, hilarity ensues.

I'm making it sound like I don't like it. In truth, it really is both sad and funny, and director Tamara Jenkins does a skillful job throughout of avoiding the Scylla of maudlin gloom and the Charybdis of false cheer, except for two or three regrettable missteps in the latter category, mostly coming at the end, one--unconscionably--involving a loveable dog. Even there, however, there's enough absurd denial involved in the character's actions to keep it within an allowable range of "merciless satire." Barely. Maybe. Overall, the cynicism/sentimentality needle throughout wavers somewhere between Happiness and Me and You and Everyone We Know.

1 comment:

Ed Hardy, Jr. said...

Does WONDER BOYS count as "one of these movies"? If so, does Grady Tripp count as "not emotionally repressed"?