December 12, 2007
Laura Linney Tackles Dementia in The Savages
"How do you care for a parent that didn't love you? Really didn't. Do you care for them and become a better person? What do you do with that?" asked Laura Linney.
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The 43-year-old actress doesn't profess to know the answers. Nor does screenwriter/director Tamara Jenkins's The Savages, but the movie adeptly tackles the problem that has become increasingly more complex and prevalent with each passing year. The film will be out soon in local theaters.
Linney plays an aspiring playwright/office temp worker named Wendy, who receives a phone call that her estranged dad Lenny (Philip Bosco) has dementia and can no longer live independently. Together with her more successful author/professor of theater sibling, Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), they embark on a journey towards self-realization, reconciliation, and acceptance as they bring the cantankerous Lenny back to Buffalo and search out a suitable nursing home.
Each sibling organically develops an opposing reaction to the father's dire situation. Wendy obsessively hopes to make things as pleasing as possible, while Jon tries to maintain a sense of cool, detached realism.
Especially during the holiday season, this long awaited feature from The Slums of Beverly Hills helmer could easily have fallen victim to the TV movie-of-the-week syndrome. By maximizing individual moments and peppering the potential downer with nuggets of humor, Jenkins has emerge with a masterpiece that will resonate with moviegoers long after the final credits fade to black.
Already showing its pedigree, The Savages has garnered four Spirit Award nominations.
Linney attempts to pinpoint the reason why The Savages has made such a powerful impression on critics and the public at large. "This brother and sister do the best they can with the tools they have and both of these protagonists, Jon and Wendy, are deeply flawed, suffering from complete arrested development," she said. "What this joint experience does, I think for the first time is give them a feeling of 'I belong to you. You belong to me' in a way they didn't have at the beginning of the movie when they were very, very separate. Their life jolted forward and they have no choice.
"It rocks their world in a way that they are not prepared for or asked for. Otherwise, they would have just continued on their merry way. And they come to understand the importance of family."
Linney, a native New Yorker, whose resume boasts three Golden Globe Awards for 2000's You Can Count on Me, 2004's Kinsey, portraying the title character's wife, and 2005's The Squid and the Whale, feels that one of the movie's greatest strengths is not supplying pat solutions for a difficult situation.
"That's stuff people have to figure out through their own character. Figure out who they are and who they want to be. What is right for them. I certainly can't give any advice. This is deep and personal stuff that people don't talk about, but it's these experience that connect human beings to each other."
She continued during an interview at the W Hotel in Union Square, "Someone will say, 'My mother passed last year.' And someone else will say, 'Mine too.' And you instantly see the connection. They might not even know each other, but it's that rite of passage that no matter where you are on the scale of life or the economic or success scale, it's the stuff that binds us all together as human beings. That's what the arts are supposed to do – a book, a play, or a movie. It's uncomfortable for a lot of people, but I think it's essential."
A graduate of Juilliard, Linney has an abiding love for live theater, earning a Tony nomination for her performance in Richard Eyre's The Crucible, opposite Liam Neeson. Last season, the blond haired actress starred in Donald Margulies' Broadway staging of Sight Unseen, a role that also copped another Tony bid. Next spring she'll be returning to the Great White Way in the Roundabout's Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
She interjected, "One of the bonuses of appearing in The Savages was the chance to work with Philip Bosco. He's a giant in New York theater and he was such an enormous inspiration to me when I was growing up. I saw him at the Circle in the Square, the Vivian Beaumont. He's given his entire life to the theater and he's what we all want to be."
No stranger to the home screen, Linney returned to television in 2004 to appear as Dr. Frasier Crane's love interest, Charlotte, in NBC's sitcom "Frasier." That guest stint earned her a 2004 Emmy and companion trophy for her "Outstanding Lead Actress" win in Showtime's "Wild Iris," opposite Gena Rowlands.
Come March, she'll be seen as Abigail Adams in HBO's miniseries John Adams.
As for the Oscar buzz surrounding The Savages, Linney modestly stated, "That's nice. That's good for the movie."