Laura Linney can raise the cinematic IQ of any film in which she appears by at least 50 points. The same ravishing blend of smarts, wit, and sponteneity is equally apparent in person. When I talked with her on October 5, 2007, about THE SAVAGES, I was finally able to ask her about something I’d always been curious about: what it was like filming her death scene in the LIFE OF DAVID GALE, one that involved wearing a plastic bag on her head for what seemed like an eternity. It’s emblematic of the sorts of risks Linney takes, and about which she opined during a conversation that ranged from the end-of-life decisions the film brings to mind, to being open to the unconventional when making career choices.
There are so many remarkable things about Tamara Jenkins’ THE SAVAGES that it’s hard to know where to start. The masterful performances are a given by pros Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jon and Wendy, siblings uncomfortable with the idea of family. There is also a subtly optimistic script about the end of life, and its beginnings, that make both a revelation, and there is direction that is as compassionate as it is unsentimental. Jenkins and company find the truths, and the humor, in the tragedy of a fractured family coming to terms with unwanted responsibilities and the uncomfortable feelings of closeness they engender. It makes for a film that is dark, tart, and oddly joyful.
It opens in the pristine splendor of Sun City, the retirement village in Arizona where the well-to-do spend their final years in peace, contentment, and comfort. It is a brief glimpse of the nirvana shortly to be taken from Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco gloriously cantankerous and befuddled), the long-absent father of Wendy and Jon, who after years of estrangement will shortly be saddled with his care in his declining years. When the woman with whom Lenny has been cohabiting in Sun City dies during a manicure, his dutiful if wary children pack him up and take him back to snowy New York where they can keep an eye on him. Sort of.
THE SAVAGES is a most unlikely holiday film. There are no warm fuzzies here, but instead a celebration of finally growing up, of letting go, and of finding peace where before there was only an aching sort of anger.