If you remember Tamara Jenkins’s lovably lost 1998 debut, Slums of Beverly Hills, with anything near the appreciation it deserves, you’ll know that nine years is too long to have waited for a follow-up. But if that’s what it takes for this writer-director to come around to The Savages, a similarly goo-free comedy about mortality and belated adulthood, then Jenkins can take all the time she needs. Immediately her wit is apparent, as two siblings bicker beautifully, in the manner that only fortyish heard-it-all-before siblings can. In a parking lot, nosy Wendy (Linney) tries to comfort grumpy brother Jon (Hoffman) over a tough breakup. Suddenly exposed, he snaps closed: “This isn’t therapy. This is real life.” Both of them know the difference. They drive in silence.
Apart, these two Savages flail in semifailure—Wendy pursuing grant money for her scripts while having an affair with a married neighbor, Jon writing an endless Brecht tome at a snowy Buffalo university. But the beauty of Jenkins’s scenario is its steadfast refusal to fix its characters even as they come together and rise to a terrible occasion, the mental unraveling of their father (Bosco), who we first meet smearing shit on the wall of his Arizona bathroom. He has to leave his retirement community, and the more his new caretakers argue, trotting out the old self-delusions, the more we see their bond as one forged by parental absence. The work by both leads is terrific; if The Savages suffers in one respect, it’s that their spats hardly seem to take them very far. But that’s family.
Cast and crew
Philip Seymour Hoffman