February 18, 2008

Discovering Jon and Wendy

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Simply looking at the movie poster for The Savages conjures up a profound sense of tragedy, isolation and melancholy. Designed by Daniel Clowes, a graphic novelist best known for the book Ghost World, the movie poster illustrates the lost brother and sister Jon Savage and Wendy Savage standing solemnly and rejected in the snow. Jon and Wendy are not the fairytale children of Peter Pan — rather, they are drifting individuals brought together by tragedy. How does unimaginable tragedy — the very things we never suspect will actually come to fruition — remake the self-absorbed and pathetic? The Savages is a touching and original introspection on inescapable tragedy and compromise.
Regarded as one of the essential films of January’s Sundance Film Festival, The Savages is poignantly written and superbly acted. Tamara Jenkins, most noted for the dark dramedy Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), continues with similar themes of family dysfunction and disillusionment with the tormented siblings Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy Savage (Laura Linney). When they discover their estranged father has lost his mind and must be taken care of, Jon and Wendy are forced to care for a man that never cared for them. Jon, a narcissistic college professor, and Wendy, a desperate playwright, are completely destroyed by a dark and abusive upbringing.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney’s performances are what catapult The Savages beyond quality indie films and into a realm of truly superb cinema. Nominated for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) and Best Actress, it is an outright shame that Philip Seymour Hoffman did not also earn a nomination. While he already has an Oscar to boot for his performance in Capote, The Savages is unquestionably deserving of recognition. Once again, Phillip Seymour Hoffman stuns as one of the best contemporary actors.
Jenkins’ film does not tell the expected and tired disgruntled-child-yarn that is searching and voyeuristic, that Ryan Murphy’s Running with Scissors exemplifies. The Savages is more a reflection on how two losers, Jon and Wendy Savage, compromise when their father — to whom they owe nothing — needs them. For Wendy, the experience is the only positive facet in her pitiful life. Ironically, if she were to turn her back on her father, it would be no moral compromise. However, it is this very opportunity that Wendy chooses not to compromise, and so becomes more of a person.
Uncomfortably cruel at times, The Savages discusses the shit that simply must be dealt with. The film does not aim at sentimentality, and effectively tells the story of how Jon and Wendy Savage grow.