Jon finds a nursing home near his campus in Buffalo. Wendy transports Lenny via an airplane to Jon. Once Lenny's in place, Wendy decides to stay with Jon for a while, at which point The Savages enters a long middle section that I would call, for lack of a better term, businesslike. There are some light moments, like Wendy sharing a Percocet with Jon that she removed from their father's dead girlfriend's medications. But for the most part, the film exudes resentment and bewilderment as the siblings adjust to their new situation. For a comedy, it feels overtaken by bleakness; for a drama, it lacks the gaseous moments to keep things light. But vulnerability returns when Jon injures himself in a tennis match; when he winds up in a medieval-looking brace, the distance between him and Wendy finally closes. Hoffman and Linney, who are at ease throughout the film, are sensational in the film's final act.
The Savages isn't a film about redemption by way of last-minute apologies; it's far too late for that. Instead, it's about how losing someone makes you appreciate everyone else, including, of all people, yourself. For all that he's absent, Lenny is a vaguely disturbing presence, rock-like in his silence but always there, aware but inscrutable. All things considered, there's very little savagery on display. In fact, the title is something of an albatross, creating false expectations of down-and-dirty dealings or, at the very least, persistent neglect. There's none of either. Perhaps that's why, in selecting her characters' given names, Jenkins makes sly reference to the Peter Pan story, Wendy and John being the closest siblings in the Darling family. The Savages is no children's story, but somehow they all find their way to a better place.
This review originally appeared in Eugene Weekly. It is reprinted here with permission.
Directed by Tamara Jenkins. Starring Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco and Peter Friedman. Rated R.