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Hoffman, Jenkins Laugh on the Inside

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tamara Jenkins at Monday's premiere of The Savages (Photo: WireImage)

By Ben Gold

The Reeler squeezed into a cramped press pen Monday night near Union Square for the New York premiere of The Savages, director Tamara Jenkins’ first film since 1998’s Slums of Beverly Hills. It features Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney play siblings at odds over how to care for their dementia-stricken father, played with frightening realism by Philip Bosco. The marketing for The Savages makes it out to be a dark family comedy along the lines of last year’s hit Little Miss Sunshine, but in truth, the emphasis rests strongly on darkness rather than comedy. Jenkins so accurately conveys the emotions associated with caring for an elderly family member that her audience spent more time squirming and uncomfortably chuckling than anything else.

The line separating comedy from drama is often nonexistent, leaving many scenes tonally ambiguous. Jon Savage (Hoffman) and his younger sister Wendy (Linney) attempt to ascertain their father’s post-mortem desires to bombastic results; in another sequence, the siblings argue over the futility of choosing one nursing home over another. “People are dying!” Hoffman’s character bellows as an elderly resident is pushed in a wheelchair nearby. ”Since I’m playing the scene you play the scene, and humor is found and drama is found," Hoffman told The Reeler about navigating the dynamics. "I try not to pinpoint what should be humorous and what should be dramatic. I just try to play a scene, and you find it.”

Jenkins said the blurred relationship reflects her own attitude toward the two. “I actually think they’re intertwined in many ways," she told me. "If you really look closely at human tragedy, there’s often a kind of farce happening underneath it if you look between the curtains.” In the case of The Savages, it is buried beneath whole layers of fabric, but, as Jenkins eventually acnowledged, the comedy was never meant to be self-aware or ironic. “It was very clear to me that it was all very tight-ropey," she said. "I think it’s always startling the first time you start showing it in front of an audience and people really start laughing. The balance of how strong someone’s reactions to one thing versus another thing -- that’s always a trip. It’s interesting: Sometimes it’s a nervous laugh, but laughter is funny that way. People are laughing for different reasons.”

Posted at November 20, 2007 4:10 PM

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