“The Savages,” review by Joanna Langfield

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Friends threatened bodily harm when I mentioned I was on my way to see The Savages, Tamara Jenkins’ look at adult children trying to deal with their ailing father’s impending death. Having just survived a similar story myself, they said, was enough. Frankly, I tended to agree with them. And then I saw the movie.

This savage comedy (yes, it is a comedy, and often a very funny one, at that) begins with the incomparable Laura Linney living not so large in New York, scrambling after hours at her temp job to send out applications for artistic grants. When her married lover shows up for a quicky, she misses the message on the answering machine about her estranged father who, it seems, is spreading feces on the wall of the home he shares with his long time “girl”friend in Sun City, Arizona. Quickly, we all discover said “girl” has died, left Dad with no place to live and it’s up to the “kids” to fly out and do something.

One of the great distinctions here is that Jenkins has chosen to make the sister the screwup, not the brother, played marvelously by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who, while not totally together, is at least on his way. So often, it is the male who is shown as the immature partner, the one who the smart, take charge woman must put up with. Here, in a refreshing twist, our leading lady is an appealing mess. While much of that is thanks to the savvy writing, when Linney walks into father Philip Bosco’s hospital room, sees the filling urine bag hanging from the side metal bar, and she reacts like a terrified deer in the headlights, I knew we were into some pretty important territory.

Few movies, especially comedies, have even dared to deal honestly with what so many are dealing with in real life –not just the fact that so many adults are now responsible for aged parents, but also the truth that most of us really don’t have a clue as to how to do it.

We, products of the me generation, are concerned with our own careers, partners and offspring (here the four pawed kind) and just don’t know how to add more to the mix. We also don’t get the “program”, the legalities, the nursing home stuff, the remembering to try and be kind to someone who is in no mood to be kind back.

Linney and Hoffman are absolutely fabulous, both individually and together, as wary siblings learning to actually appreciate one another. In a few short scenes, Bosco shows us why his children, who have kept away so long, are still under his spell. But their work doesn’t come as a surprise: after all, these are three of our finest actors. It is the screenplay and unsentimental direction of Jenkins, whom we haven’t heard from since Slums of Beverly Hills that thrills. With this terrific movie, she shows us that sometimes, growing up can happen in the strangest places.

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Joanna Langfield (Archived Contributor)

Her voice is heard throughout the 50 states and around the world by more than one million listeners on her syndicated radio programs: Joanna Langfield’s People Report and Video and Movie Minute. She’s also seen and heard as a regular contributing commentator on CNN International, CNN, Fox News and CNBC. In print, her articles have been published in such high profile magazines as Video Review and McCall’s. Joanna Langfield is known for taking interviews to another level with probing looks at celebrities’ insights rather than just their latest projects. As a result, she’s secured a niche among the nation’s premier interviewers and movie critics. Joanna began her career on the production staff of a local Boston television station. She then focused her energies towards radio and produced talk shows at WMEX-AM in Boston. After moving to New York, she became executive producer at WMCA-AM for talk show personalities Barry Gray and Sally Jessy Raphael. She began hosting a one-minute movie review spot which, in turn, led to her top-rated weekend call in-show, The Joanna Langfield Show (1980-83). Joanna moved to WABC-AM to host The Joanna Langfield Show on Saturday nights from 9:00pm to midnight. It was the highest rated show in its time slot. From 1987-1989, Joanna hosted Today’s People on the ABC Radio network, which was fed daily to over 300 stations around the country. She also appeared on WABC-TV as a regular on-air contributor. In 1989, Joanna formed her radio production company, Joanna Langfield Entertainment Reports, to syndicate her radio reports. She is considered to be one of the top authoritative commentators on the entertainment industry. Read Lagfield's recent articles below. For her Women On Film archive, type "Joanna Langfield" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).