Review: ‘The Savages’ romp wildly

The wag who had suggested “Get a life, go to the movies” might have had “The Savages” in mind. This brilliant film by a relative newcomer is like life itself — delightful, tragic, vulgar, literate, exhilarating and irritating in turn.

Although writer-director Tamara Jenkins has some previous work to her credit (“Slums of Beverly Hills“), she bursts on the scene with this superbly entertaining, freewheeling, thought-provoking, first-rate film.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, two of Hollywood’s finest, play a middle-aged brother and sister confronted with the sudden, life-changing need to take care of their elderly and dementia-stricken father (Philip Bosco), with whom they had little real contact previously.

The Savages are a strange, but very real bunch Jenkins’ writing hits home time and again, regardless of your own family history. There is outrageous humor and things said that you don’t usually hear in public, a sense of a grownup writer speaking through adult actors to an audience of equals. Nothing is sacred, everything goes, the communication is free and easy, but there is also genuine warmth and sincere humanity in the story.

Reminiscent of “Away from Her” (No. 1 on my top 10 for the year) in its subject, sincerity, intelligence and unpretentious integrity, “The Savages” provides both entertainment and a memorable experience.

The fun begins with the beginning, a grotesquely and splendidly choreographed dance number that creates a happy dislocation — you have no idea where you are and what’s happening. Soon enough, the reality of the Arizona retirement “home” sinks in, but Jenkins maintains the suspense, the unpredictable nature of the story throughout — until near the end of “The Savages,” when the film sags a bit.

Hoffman and Linney further illuminate an already rich, intelligent script. As the troubled adult siblings, with their complicated lives and relationship, they are so real that you will think of them as people you have known, but now you really find out about their innermost secrets.

The Hoffman character is a struggling, lonely academic, working hard but unsuccessfully to finish his book on “Oedipal Rage in Brecht.” There is a whole slew of inside jokes there, none essential to enjoyment of the film but serving as an extra, along with many other references, winks and subtexts. Linney plays a character who is a bundle of uncertainties and insecurities, and yet she remains real and viable, never a caricature.

Bosco, 77, plays a man of his own age, but in a vastly worse physical and mental state, with symptoms that are hard to watch. He is brilliant in presenting the reality of the situation, including a measure of humor, but without mocking the character.The entire large cast — with some fascinating characters, such as Gbenga Akinnagbe’s kind and strong night nurse — performs marvelously under Jenkins’ self-effacing direction.

artsentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

A large crack winds its way up a sidewalk along China Basin Street in Mission Bay on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco’s sinking sidewalks: Is climate change to blame?

‘In the last couple months, it’s been a noticeable change’

For years, Facebook employees have identified serious harms and proposed potential fixes. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have rejected the remedies, causing whisteblowers to multiple. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)
Facebook’s problems at the top: Social media giant is not listening to whistleblowers

Whistleblowers multiply, but Zuckerberg and Sandberg don’t heed their warnings

Maria Jimenez swabs her 7-year-old daughter Glendy Perez for a COVID-19 test at Canal Alliance in San Rafael on Sept. 25. (Penni Gladstone/CalMatters)
Rapid COVID-19 tests in short supply in California

‘The U.S. gets a D- when it comes to testing’

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led a late-game comeback against the Packers, but San Francisco lost, 30-28, on a late field goal. (Courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)
The Packers beat the Niners in a heartbreaker: Don’t panic

San Francisco is no better and no worse than you thought they were.

A new ruling will thwart the growth of solar installation companies like Luminalt, which was founded in an Outer Sunset garage and is majority woman owned. (Philip Cheung, New York Times)
A threat to California’s solar future and diverse employment pathways

A new ruling creates barriers to entering the clean energy workforce

Most Read