'The Savages' is too tame

-- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

There's a vague air of depression around everyone in The Savages, an unsettling fable about a dysfunctional family, adult life and the passage of time.

In The Savages, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney play a brother and sister -- Jon and Wendy Savage -- who must take on responsibility for their elderly father (Philip Bosco).

Dad has some form of dementia, and though he is more or less estranged from his adult children, they step up to find him a nursing home.

In the process, both Jon and Wendy must face their own diminished expectations and their inability to maintain relationships in their own lives. And they have to grow up, something their Peter Pan-ish names (like Jon and Wendy Darling, remember?) suggest they've been avoiding.

Wendy, for example, is a failed playwright with a boring day job. She steals office supplies and other people's medications, and she tells lies about herself to attract attention or appear more important. Her boyfriend is a married neighbour; the high hopes and low disappointments of her life are all captured in the way her small apartment is decorated.

Brother Jon, meanwhile, is a professor living in some sort of academic atmosphere in Buffalo. His house is a mess and his girlfriend has to leave the country for visa reasons -- and Jon won't marry her. Like his sister Wendy, Jon is leading a life quite different than the one he likely imagined for himself.

Together, Jon and Wendy go through the brutal process of getting their father into a care facility. They watch him deteriorate. They get to know the people who work at the nursing home, and they get to know each other better. They fight, they connect, they rewrite their own histories.

The Savages unfolds in a blend of humour and pathos, and the sibling scenes between Hoffman and Linney are generally inspired. None of the characters in the story is particularly attractive, which is a pleasant change, and the film has its fair share of brilliant moments. Overall, however, the storytelling is never fully engaging.

That may be because Hoffman and Linney seem to be engaged in a type of Pillsbury Act-Off, a thespian competition to see which of them can be more low affect and indie-underplayed. You can see how hard they're trying to seem as if they're not trying hard.

In the end, we were bored. In the end, it all seemed pretty trite. The Savages was first shown here during the Toronto film festival -- where movie fatigue is always a possibility -- and it seemed to be a real crowd pleaser. We weren't part of that crowd.

(This film is rated 14A)


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