12 November 2007 | billybobwashere
A humane film about human experiences.
To put it simply, "The Savages" is the most human look at life I've seen in theaters this year. It's incredibly easy to relate to if you have ever ever seen some relative or family friend of yours get old and then forget who you are due to some sort of elder person's disease. It features three of the year's finest performances from Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Phillip Brosco, all of whom radiate on the screen as real, ordinary but complex, people. Linney and Hoffman play brother and sister, two writers who have an argumentative but loving way of getting along. Brosco plays their father, who has done something really, well, "dirty," and has drawn the attention of the family that had been caring for him, who no longer wish to do so.
From there, Linney and Hoffman's characters meet up with the father whom they haven't seen in years, and who was never very compassionate towards them. However, their father has dementia, and slowly begins to forget who they are. Instead of their main concern being whether or not he's kind to them, the kids are afraid they won't be able to communicate with him at all. The way Tamara Jenkins handles this, from both the perspective of the kids and the perspective of the father, is brilliant. She really understands the way family relations work, as her film is spot-on in that aspect.
The three performances are all great for their own reasons. Linney plays a woman who is really confused with her life: she's having an affair with a married man who's ten years older than her, she lies to everyone she knows about things that aren't worth it, and she is having a lot of trouble getting produced as a writer. Hoffman, her older brother, has a really relaxed humanistic side to him, always countering Linney's loud worrisome actions with a calm, mind-processing technique. The chemistry between this brother-sister duo - probably the only opposite-sex-adult-aged-duo that doesn't have any romantic elements (for obvious reasons) - is one of the most realistic works of chemistry you'll find in a theater this year. Throw in Phillip Brosco - who absolutely conquers the dementia that his character has (my aunt has dementia, so I see her all the time and know that his face and way of talking and mannerisms are all spot on) - and you've got three characters who are so strong alone that they're enough reason to see this movie, funny-touching script and story aside.
While all three performances were incredible, I'd have to say that my favorite performance came from Hoffman. Linney played the confused-wreck card very well, but it's not like she's the first actress to confront or conquer that territory. Brosco was astoundingly realistic as a man with dementia, but his role doesn't carry very far beyond that. Hoffman's performance, while not "loud" in any way, is simply the best portrayal of an ordinary human being I've seen in years, if that makes any sense. Everything, from the way he reacts to what people say, to the way he talks, to the way he expresses emotion when he's feeling it - all of it is executed so well that I can't believe that he was actually acting.
The ending of the film is very humane. It doesn't have any major twists or bangs, but it doesn't end on a nothing-note either. It teaches us that the lessons we learn from one experience can help us deal with the next, and it's the many small messages like this and the very life-like feel of the film's craft that make it one of the most special films I had the experience of seeing at a theater this year.