Thursday, February 21, 2008

savage nation

In my never-ending quest to become further acquainted with everything that Philip Seymour Hoffman has ever done on film, I saw Savages earlier this week. I think that this film benefited greatly from its faulty advertising, though, as it was not quite the wry comedy that the trailer led me to believe. Though I was surprised by the tone of the movie, I can't say that I was truly disappointed. I was hoping for some humor a little more zesty than the post-postmodern "jokes." That is to say, the movie opens on perfectly trimmed hedges and slow-motion leisure scenes, which are clearly meant to elicit laughter from the intellectually dissatisfied. Instead, Savages is a very frank look into the challenges posed to those who have to find elder care for their loved one.

Of course, this is all complicated for Jon and Wendy Savage because the father they are trying to find care for in his final weeks abused and abandoned them when they were children. Feeling guilty for having returned the favor, the Savages just try to take care of their father without really paying much attention to him. Some of the sharpest scenes in the movie occur when the self-centered siblings argue aimlessly with each other, and their father tries passively to ignore the pain of his children.

There is a striking lack of humor in Wendy's character, but Laura Linney delivered such an amazing performance that the character becomes sympathetic, when she easily could have stagnated at immature and selfish. She is keenly aware of her shortcomings - unapologetic about her pill-popping, lying to cover up her inadequacies in academia, and dissatisfied with her unhealthy love life - and that is what makes her so approachable. Aren't we all hyper-sensitive to our personality flaws, and critical of people who aren't?

Laura Linney absolutely stole the show here, so it was nice to see PSH sent to the background for once. Even in Anderson's films where he is a tertiary character, he draws so much attention based on his talent at playing the pathetic. I recommend this movie for anyone for whom elder relatives and nursing homes aren't currently a sensitive subject.

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