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Tamara Jenkins: Comedy and Tragedy Co-Exist Comfortably

Slums
Tamara Jenkins, the writer and director of the just-released
film The Savages, was interviewed by Terry
Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air this week. As
in her 1998 film Slums of Beverly Hills,
Jenkins is concerned with the forces – both beneficial and detrimental – that
bind families together. It’s a worthy
topic at this time of year, as we hurtle from Thanksgiving toward the December
holidays. 

Jenkins based the narratives of both films on incidents from
her own life, altering events to suit the story. She said, "I’ve been differentiating
from (The Savages) being strictly
autobiographical vs. it being really personal, ’cause if I said it was
autobiographical I’d end up like that guy James Frey (author of "A Million
Little Pieces").

Slums of Beverly Hills
is the story of a teenage girl whose father moves her and her two brothers
around the wealthy zip code, always one step ahead of eviction, so the kids can
attend good public schools. They are an
unusual bunch, and Jenkins takes care to preserve their quirks without
resorting to revelations of "hearts of gold" or other mainstream clichés. 

She does this in The
Savages
as well, which is about siblings (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura
Linney) who place their elderly father in a nursing home as his dementia
worsens. 

About casting the part of the father, Jenkins recalled, "It
was very important to me that he wasn’t trivialized…as a bastard with a
twinkle in his eye. I just didn’t want
that cute-ification that I think often occurs with difficult old men…I wanted
it to be very honest and blunt."

The characters in both films find humor in difficult
situations, as human beings are wont to do. Jenkins explains why this is so: "The world separates comedies from
tragedies, dramas from farces.  I
actually think if you are paying close attention in life that you’ll see that
they are actually operating in stereo most of the time…under tragedy is a
kind of human farce happening, also."

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