The Savages teams Laura Linney with Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Robert De Niro and Al Pacino of the crummy-looking, myopic indie film. They play a pair of muttery, slovenly, small-minded siblings forced to take care of their ailing father (Phillip Bosco) once his live-in girlfriend dies. If you've seen either actor in Willy Loman mode, then you can tick off their dull virtuoso moments with ease: Hoffman explodes in rage, Linney implodes in front of God and everybody, and later in the movie they mumble phony, "revelatory" apologies to one another.
Fortunately, as unsurprising as either lead is, writer-director Tamara Jenkins' direction is a little friskier at first. She photographs the Arizona desert where Bosco lives in hyper-saturated slo-motion as if mocking the opening montage of Blue Velvet. But I'll be damned if I can guess why she did it, because she pulls up stakes 10 minutes into the film and moves the action to downbeat, dirty Buffalo, inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) eliminating the possibility of a decent-looking scene, shot, or image in the process.
Some of us are at the age where our parents can delight in their grandchildren and complain about taking care of their own parents in the same breath. Elder care is a serious and not always pleasant subject. But can it be mined for comic material? I wonder. It would probably require a lighter touch, more sensitive and generous actors, and more free-floating compassion than anyone in this lukewarm and ugly-looking film can muster.
Opens Friday, January 18th, at Studio on the Square