At almost every film festival, there are one or two films I go into really hoping I'll like them, and on truly fortuitous occasions, my hope and the hype both live up to expectations. One of those films at this year's Sundance was The Savages, starring Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. You'd have to try pretty damn hard to mess up with actors of that caliber bookending your film, and fortunately, with writer/director Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, which I've always loved) at the helm, it's smooth sailing. Wendy and Jon Savage (Linney and Hoffman, respectively) are siblings who together survived a tumultuous and abusive childhood. They've long been estranged from their mother, who abandoned the family, and their father, who, we gather, was not the warmest or most nurturing of paternal figures. Needless to say, neither sibling survived childhood emotionally intact.
Wendy, at age 39, has only a cat, a ficus, and an occasional romp in the sack with a married man to keep her company in her tiny New York City apartment. Jon, at 42, is in the midst of ending his long-term relationship with his Polish girlfriend because her visa has expired and he just can't make that commitment to marriage. Wendy is an aspiring playwright, and Jon a professor of drama working on a book on Bertolt Becht. When dad Lenny's girlfriend of 20 years dies suddenly, Jon and Wendy fly to Sun City to assess the situation; they quickly learn that their dad had the non-marital version of a pre-nup with Doris, his lady friend, and he is being unceremoniously booted out of his home by his Doris' kids, who want to sell the house to the next soon-to-be-dying client. Thus, Jon and Wendy end up in the unenviable position of having to care for the father who never cared for them.