After nearly ten years since her last semi-autobiographical movie, “Slums of Beverly Hills,” writer-director Tamara Jenkins returned to the spotlight to debut her latest pic “The Savages” at the Arclight on Wednesday as part of Variety’s Screening Series.
“It kind of came bubbling up out of my dark recesses and then I stuffed it in a drawer and didn’t think about it for a long time,” said Jenkins. The filmmaker was joined by actress Laura Linney, who stars opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular siblings who struggle to care for their dementia-stricken father while managing both their personal and professional lives.
Pic deals with universal themes such as aging and death, and Jenkins said she was moved by audience reaction to the personal film.
“I’ve had very profound experiences where people will come up to me after a screening and volunteer elder-care stories of their own. The spontaneous sharing has been very moving. In my own experience, I felt very isolated and kind of lonely and it’s sort of interesting that suddenly there’s this forum for people to start talking about this. I’m not Oprah and I didn’t prepare this with that in mind. You don’t really know what’s driving you but that’s been a very interesting fruit of my labor, that kind of contact with people. That’s a really nice connection.”
“It’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read,” confessed Linney, who was anxious to tackle the role despite limited time to prepare for the 30-day shoot. “There was no time for a silly thing like rehearsal,” she joked. “With films of this nature, you really just have to throw yourself off a cliff and go. You really don’t have time for a lot of exploration. You have to do as much work as you possibly can before you start and then hit the ground running and you do not mess around.”
When one audience member asked why the family’s matriarch was absent, rather than simply dead, Jenkins responded by saying “Well then they would’ve dealt with that before. This is a movie about people having this very primal experience that’s sort of lobbed into their laps. They’re virgins with regards to this. They haven’t buried a parent before. They’ve never dealt with death like this.”
Linney elaborated: “One of the things that I think hung in the air for both Phil and I was ‘what do you do with a parent who doesn’t love you?’ And when they both don’t love you, I mean, what do you do with that? How do you age with that? How do you put someone to rest with that? Are you better to them than they were to you? It’s all about how someone who doesn’t really have the tools, who wasn’t given the tools, how do they give back? Or do they?”
The Fox Searchlight release opens in limited release on November 28.