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“The Savages”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “The Savages,” Fox Searchlight, 2007]

It’s not something one often praises in a film, but there’s a mundaneness to “The Savages” that is incredibly appealing. The film is about a brother (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a sister (Laura Linney) dealing with their ailing father (Philip Bosco). That is all. There is no wacky road trip where they all reconnect, or a romanticized bank heist that solves all their unaddressed problems. That simplicity is refreshing, even if the movie’s tone is a little uneven.

Bosco’s Lenny Savage has been living with a woman in Arizona; when she dies, he is left without a home. It’s clear Lenny needs constant care and supervision — just before his girlfriend’s death, he began acting out by writing on the bathroom wall with his own feces #151; so Hoffman’s Jon, an English professor, and Linney’s Wendy, a temp and struggling writer, must seek out an appropriate nursing home. This process, and all the accompanying stress and guilt that comes with it, sustains the picture for its running time.

Emotional scars weigh on every decision. Jon tries to do right by Lenny but clearly doesn’t want to be too inconvenienced; he finds him a decent facility near his home in Buffalo, but is totally uninterested in Wendy’s attempts to find a more hospitable environment. In one of their numerous arguments, he protests Wendy’s excessive concern, noting, “We’re taking better care of the old man than he ever did of us.” If they don’t particularly like their father, the Savage kids didn’t exactly save their love for each other, and their interactions throughout the film underscore their pettiness, their rivalry, and their jealousy of each other’s success.

If this doesn’t sound like a comedy, that’s because it probably shouldn’t be. Truth be told, the movie is not very funny, but there are scenes in “The Savages” that are clearly intended as the sort of awkward, quirky observational humor that’s evident in a lot of films that appear at Sundance (as this one did, earlier this year). This is probably the only area in which writer/director Tamara Jenkins tries a bit too hard — by nature of its subject matter, this is a dark movie, and it was wise to try to leaven the seriousness with moments of humor. Still, the results feel forced.

The movie is much better when it simply observes its characters. “The Savages” evinces an off-the-cuff visual style that works well with its life-simply-captured approach. One particularly effective scene shows Jon speaking to Wendy on his cell phone while he stands out in the snow. Eventually the flakes begin to accumulate on the camera, smudging the image noticeably. But instead of breaking the illusion of the movie by suggesting the presence of the camera, the vérité-like moment removes the barriers between us and the screen and adds a sense of intimacy to the scene, as if we were there in Buffalo with Jon. In that moment, something as mundane as a dirty lens becomes something quite profound. Or perhaps I’ve just had my glasses smudged by the snow too many times.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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