It feels like forever since I've even bothered to write anything for this space, even if it's just been less than a week off. But now, after a sojourn to the city and (of course) a movie a day, I'm back and hopefully with some new vigor to start the new year (and as for early-morning motivational music to get back in the groove, you can't do much better than the Hold Steady's "Separation Sunday," which my brother just passed on to me.)
The flicks I managed to take in ranged from the epic ("There Will Be Blood") to the magical ("Persepolis") to the mildly disappointing ("The Orphanage.") I'll start today, however, with the one that has lingered longest in my mind, making it my favorite for the week, Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages."
I'm hoping against hope that this little flick has enough star power (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) to let it play very wide very soon, because it deftly deals with a subject which, even if we never encounter it ourselves, feels universal and perfectly natural (and surprisingly entertaining too.)
From the outset, what sets Jenkins' movie apart from other family comedy/dramas is its tone, which despite its often depressing subject matter never gives in to cloying sentiment and instead mines the most uncomfortable situations for the humor we all need to deal with life.
But I guess a word or two about the actual plot would be in order, since I can't imagine too many folks have had a chance to see this one yet. Linney and Hoffman play a slightly estranged brother and sister who are barely dealing with their own lives when they get a call from the daughter of their father's girlfriend. It seems that the girlfriend has died (in a very funny way), leaving their father (played with defiant fire by Phillip Bosco), who they haven't spoken to in many years, all alone in Sun City, Ariz., and unable to care for himself, suffering as he does from dementia.
His disgusting but, given the circumstances, perfectly understandable act of bathroom rebellion will make you cringe and laugh all at once, and Jenkins finds even more humor in the never-anything-but-natural rapport between a brother and sister who have yet to find much satisfaction from a world to which they feel very little attachment. As they slowly lose their father (I really don't think I'm giving too much away here) but grow closer to each other, the movie become more and more sad but all the while more effecting as it goes.
I had to look up Jenkins' name at the IMDB to find out I hadn't seen any of her previous movies, the most well-known of which is probably "Slums of Beverly Hills." With "The Savages," she's clearly taken on a subject she knows well (and I'd have to imagine dealt with herself) and turned it into one of the most endearing movies of 2007.
She's also coaxed two top-notch performances out of Linney and Hoffman. The latter will be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his very funny work in "Charlie Wilson's War," but if Ms. Linney doesn't get a Best Actress nod for her work here there is something seriously wrong with the whole process. And, if not for "Juno," this could certainly take the "little indy" slot in the Best Picture gang and be a worthy contender.
We're clearly entering the dark time of the movie year. Though "Juno" is finally playing wide enough to reach my little corner of the world this week, the only new movie opening in wide-release world, "One Missed Call," carries with it perhaps the worst tagline of all time: "What will it sound like when you die?" Sheesh. Hopefully Jenkins' little movie will step into this coming black hole and provide some welcome relief from the wave of mediocrity (or worse) that's clearly coming. Peace out.