I was surprised there wasn't a thread for this. But I just want to reiterate, all indie films are trying to look the same
. Seriously, what's up with this animated/drawn motif in all of these films (I mentioned this in the Juno thread)?
It looks promising, I saw the trailer the other day, plus there's a great article in NYT:
"Unblinking Look At Death Without Nobility"
By DENNIS LIM
AT the Sundance Film Festival, where the writer-director Tamara Jenkins's second feature, ''The Savages,'' had its premiere in January, dysfunctional families are, to an exhausting degree, the norm.
But Ms. Jenkins's film, which stars Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as bickering siblings forced to care for their semi-estranged, dementia-stricken father (Philip Bosco), stood out for its wit and maturity. Devoid of the quirks and sappiness that increasingly typify American indie cinema, the film captures the sorrow, anxiety and sheer disruptive tumult involved in dealing with aging, dying parents -- a subject at once universal and vaguely taboo.
''It's something that everybody feels or that everybody thinks about,'' Ms. Jenkins said recently, sitting in a cafe near her East Village apartment. But in her experience ''it sort of happens outside the community, off the grid,'' she said. ''You go off and deal with this death thing, or this nursing-home-transition thing.''
In a typical office environment, she added, ''sometimes someone will just disappear for two weeks, and when they come back everyone's like, 'Oh ... ''' -- she assumed an expression of exaggerated sympathy -- ''and that's it, but meanwhile their whole world has changed.''
It's an experience that Ms. Jenkins, 45, went through in her mid-30s, when her father was admitted to a nursing home at the end of his life. ''My father was 20 years older than my mother, so I was relatively young,'' she said. ''None of my peers had really been through that. Their parents weren't that old.''
This was 10 years ago, before the demographic of aging boomers led to the growth of advice on the care of their parents. ''I remember it being kind of isolating,'' she said. But as a writer who gravitates to ''primal situations where you're unafraid of etiquette, because there is none,'' she also recognized a subject matter that was ''this great laboratory for human behavior.''
''There's no rule book,'' she continued, ''on how to behave when confronted with death.'' It irks her that films often presume there is one. ''You see movies with tragic death scenes where everyone's sort of noble and can handle it, and I just don't buy it,'' she said.
Jon and Wendy Savage, the film's combative siblings, are both far from noble. They're petty, self-absorbed, infinitely fallible. Confronting the mortality of a parent has only made their own creeping midlife disappointments harder to ignore. He's a drama professor in Buffalo; she's a struggling playwright in Manhattan. That they work in the same field only brings a competitive prickliness to their interactions.
For her first feature, ''Slums of Beverly Hills'' (1998), a darkly funny account of growing up broke and nomadic on the fringes of moneyed Los Angeles, Ms. Jenkins mined her teenage years. (After her parents divorced, her father, a car salesman and former nightclub owner, took custody of her and her three brothers.)
For ''The Savages,'' which opens on Nov. 28, she drew again on her family. One of her brothers, Ron Jenkins, is a professor of theater at Wesleyan University; Ms. Jenkins got her start in the downtown New York theater world. ''I feel kind of greedy when I'm writing, just searching for stuff,'' she said. ''But it's not truly autobiographical. It's sort of an inverted version. I remember thinking: 'My brother and I, we're the lucky ones. But what if we were unlucky and turned ourselves inside out and were these warring siblings?''' In a wince-inducing moment in ''The Savages'' Wendy lies to Jon about having won a Guggenheim fellowship. Both Ms. Jenkins and her brother have in fact been awarded Guggenheims.
''It was a wonderfully demanding part,'' Ms. Linney said of Wendy, whom she called ''spastic and yet capable of great stealth'' and who suggests a less stable version of the tightly wound sister she played in another indie drama, Kenneth Lonergan's ''You Can Count on Me.'' ''The extremes of the character are very far apart, which gave me a lot of room in between.''
As for the irascible father, played with a remarkable lack of vanity by Mr. Bosco, the theater veteran, he's hardly a paternal figure. ''He's not a grouch with a twinkle in his eye,'' Ms. Jenkins said. ''I couldn't have handled a cute old man.''
Besides a contempt for sentimentality, the most notable characteristic of Ms. Jenkins's writing is its blend of poignancy and mortifying comedy, both of which she locates in her characters' foibles. She explained: ''Someone asked me at a film festival, 'Your screenplay is funny and sad, so do you do a sad pass and then go back and do the funny?' And I was, like, 'I don't think it works that way.'''
The bittersweet voice may come naturally to Ms. Jenkins, but in the case of this film it didn't come quickly. In the nine-year gap between her features -- ''It's like Terrence Malick without the masterpieces,'' she joked -- she put in some time on an eventually abandoned screenplay about Diane Arbus. She also took on rewrite jobs, published essays about art and worked on sex-education films and public-service announcements.
Intermittently she took notes for ''The Savages,'' observing the goings-on at a nursing home down the street from her apartment and consulting ''the elder-care section at Barnes & Noble.''
In 2002 Ms. Jenkins married Jim Taylor, the writing and producing partner of the director Alexander Payne (they shared a screenwriting Oscar for the 2004 critics' favorite ''Sideways''). But in lieu of a honeymoon she went straight to Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., hoping to turn her notebooks into a screenplay.
Most of the other fellows at Yaddo were novelists, which imposed a certain kind of pressure. ''As a screenwriter you feel like you're not a real writer,'' she said. ''Real writers write novels, and you're just this hacky person.'' But being in a community of fiction writers, she said, ultimately helped: ''When I'd get stuck in the haiku-ness of screenplay writing, where you're distilling as it's coming out of you, I would just pretend it was a novel -- just go for prose and write the hell out of it.'' Her first draft was 200 pages, unfilmable but filled with a sense of interior life that scripts typically leave out. ''It was like I wrote a novel, which I then had to adapt into a screenplay,'' she said.
Before making her first feature, Ms. Jenkins recalled, ''I had never interacted with the world of commerce.'' A stage actor and a performance artist in the '80s, she enrolled at New York University's graduate film school in the '90s. Working on ''Slums of Beverly Hills,'' she realized that ''the business of moviemaking is not a natural thing for me.'' Developing ''The Savages'' only confirmed that.
The project was initially with Focus Features, which had given Ms. Jenkins a ''blind deal'' to write any script she wanted, but agreed to let her develop it elsewhere after what she characterized as a disagreement over casting. The executives wanted at least one of the siblings to be played by ''someone big,'' she said, declining to elaborate.
But a few big names passed on the project, and she came to realize that the choice of lead actors was not something she could compromise for a film so dependent on rapport. ''Even if they're individually brilliant actors, you can't be completely sure,'' she said. ''It's so much about behavior and interaction and what's happening between the lines.''
She became increasingly convinced that Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Linney, who had never worked together, were a perfect fit. ''I met her in Colorado and him in the West Village, and I had these little pictures of them above my desk and I'd just obsess about them,'' she said.
But even with these widely respected, well-reviewed actors attached -- this was before Mr. Hoffman's Oscar for ''Capote'' -- no one was biting. As she shopped the finished screenplay around, she would invariably get a positive reaction on the first call. ''But when it went upstairs'' to a senior executive, she said, ''that's when it would die.'' She eventually decided that ''people were freaked out by the subject.''
Ms. Linney put it more bluntly. ''I think a lot of people just don't know how to read screenplays anymore,'' she said. ''They see what's on the page, but it's hard for them to detect tone and pitch.''
To Ms. Jenkins, though, the reactions of some readers seemed personal: ''I'd hear things like, 'The head of that company's father just died, and it didn't happen that way.''' Other comments: '''These people seem not nice' -- I got a lot of that,'' she said. ''And 'Where's that moment of redemption?''' That last question still gets her agitated: ''Well, the father has dementia, so it's not going to happen! Luckily I'd set it up in such a way that it could never happen. It must have been some unconscious ploy.''
After Lone Star, an independent company, agreed to put up half the budget, she met again with Fox Searchlight (which had, under different management, financed ''Slums of Beverly Hills''). She was accompanied this time by Mr. Taylor, the director Mr. Payne and Jim Burke, a longtime producer, who with their company, Ad Hominem, have a first-look deal with Searchlight -- ''my male backup singers,'' she said. The three men ended up attached to the project as executive producers.
Peter Rice, the president of Searchlight, gave the go-ahead in January 2006, Ms. Jenkins said. What ensued was a mad dash to get the production started because winter scenes were required. ''The longer the days got, the surer I became that Tamara was making a good movie,'' Mr. Hoffman said. ''She's not a compromiser.''
Still, the modest budget ($8 million) and compressed shooting schedule (30 days, with locations ranging from western New York to Arizona) compelled Ms. Jenkins to modify her approach.
''I used to be such a control freak,'' she said, referring to the black-and-white short films ''Fugitive Love'' (1991) and ''Family Remains'' (1993) that won her early acclaim and that she called ''stylized, almost stifled, very controlled things.'' With ''The Savages,'' by necessity, she developed ''a willingness to let life happen in front of you,'' she said.
The film's lifelike quality took precedence over everything else. ''It's not a life-changing movie,'' Mr. Hoffman said, ''and in that way it's very honest.''
For Ms. Jenkins the film's refusal to sugarcoat its subject was an ethical choice. ''It was essential to be authentic, especially about the realities of people at the end of their life, when it's not going to be great,'' she said. ''I couldn't fake it and make it all pretty. It's just so depressing when movies fake it. Talk about alienation. It's so lonely to be told that's the way it is when your life isn't like that at all.''