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(Seen on 5/19/08) I’m not quite sure why they’re trying to sell this film like one of the quirky coming-of-age films, with the comic book type poster, like it’s the next Juno or Rocket Science. Except for a slightly off-skew sense of humor, this film is nothing like those types. It’s not cute or quirky, there are no smart-ass teenagers; nor is the soundtrack full of Violent Femmes songs. This is an adult film, with adult issues, and a lot to do about death and how people death with it. But it’s funny.

Even though both the main characters, Wendy and Jon Savage, are middle aged, it does have one thing in common with those kinds of films; it’s a coming-of-age story. Both Jon and Wendy are stuck in an advanced state of adolescence. What finally kicks them in the ass to grow up, is dealing with their dying father. Wendy, played with spit and vinegar by Laura Linney, is an artsy-little-girl stuck in a woman’s body. Wendy is having an affair with a married man, does temp jobs, while dreaming about writing plays; her only responsibility being a potted plant. Her younger brother Jon, another wonderful character from one of the greatest actors of our generation, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is a little more grown-up; he has a real job as a professor of literature and a live in girlfriend, but he's still very much figuring out life.

When their father’s girlfriend dies, leaving him without a home, they’re forced to move him from Arizona, into a low rent retirement home in Buffalo, NY, where Jon teaches school. It’s quite apparent to them, that he doesn’t have much time left and they decide that Wendy will move in with Jon for a while, so they can spend his lingering days together. They didn’t have much of a family life together when they were young, they want the opportunity to get to know him before he’s gone. This dysfunctional family slowly learns how to love each other once again. Jon’s also dealing with his girlfriend’s visa expiring, and her being forced out of the country; while Wendy and her married boyfriend’s relationship comes to a head.

The Savages is a wonderful little film, full of great performances; with Linney and Hoffman making their characters fully rounded and sometimes too close to home. I also really liked Philip Bosco as the father Lenny, he gives dying a true depth, a reality, and some humor. This is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, but sometimes you have to chuckle at the darkest moments in life, because dwelling on them too much would be too much to handle. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins culled this film out of her real life experiences, and the film feels all the more realistic for it. (She also did a little film I dug called The Slums of Beverly Hills.) This is a film with a true beating heart, it understands how people really act out their lives. Spending some time with The Savages leaves you with more life experience. – Grade: B+

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