The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday December 5th

'Savages' saved by acting, not plot

"The Savages" has raw acting and ironic, brutal humor, but its plot loses power and ultimately proves too tame. Writer and director Tamara Jenkins tries to present a story that avoids melodramatic breakthroughs and instead functions in the subtle neuroses of her characters. Unfortunately, this refusal to dwell in the past hurts the film, making it hard to understand the motivation for much of the characters' dysfunction. When their aging father Lenny (Philip Bosco) begins to suffer from dementia and is kicked out of his comfortable assisted-living condo, the brother-sister team of Jon and Wendy (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) are called upon as caregivers. But neither sibling is anxious to abandon their lives in order to help their father, who they haven't spoken with in years. It is clear that both Savage children have an estranged relationship with their father, but the audience is left wondering why that is. Any details of their father's abandonment and/or abuse are barely implied. Wendy, a struggling playwright, wonders if her semi-autobiographical work is mere middle-class whining, and with little rationale for the characters' behavior, the film encroaches on being just that. But the sometimes brilliant nuances are not lost on Hoffman and Linney. Both actors own their characters and bring forward the incredible depth that the plot lacks. Linney's neurotic outburts paired with Hoffman's egotistical detachment allow for the film's dark humor, as well as powerful dialogues. Much of the first half thrives in bitterly ironic moments, such as the scene of a stoic Hoffman carrying an "I Love You" balloon awkwardly around his father's hospital room. Linney and Hoffman powerfully deliver their empty, narcissistic characters until the end. But the end for "The Savages" is a clumsy meditation on family and loss. Contact the Diversions Editor at


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