Thursday, December 4, 2008

Big screen professors

Watched "Smart People" and "The Savages" this week, which feature an English professor (19th-c British) and Theatre professor (Brecht), respectively. A minor plot line in "The Savages" finds the professor ultimately subject to the "naturalistic" emotion (bad childhood) he eschews in his work; the "Smart People," predictably, don't turn out to be so smart. I enjoyed both. The best part of "Smart People" is the girl who played Juno, except for this time her precocity is grating and arrogant. "The Savages" is on another level. It stars two great actors, Laura Dern Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a brother and sister who must deal with a dying father after not seeing him for many years. It's a grubby, bleak movie that throws into relief the meager sustenance their intellectual pretensions give them. The many free-floating issues are encapsulated in a last scene in which Linney's play about her childhood is being rehearsed. A father figure repeatedly hits a young boy, who then floats upward on wires. When we realize that this young boy is Seymour Hoffman, his emotionally challenged character suddenly comes into sharper focus. It's nicely done.

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