Nothing — at least, nothing in Scottsdale — says “swanky throwback vibe” like the Hotel Valley Ho, and don’t think filmmaker Tamara Jenkins isn’t appreciative.
“I like the Rat Pack thing they’ve got going on here,” Jenkins coos, admiring her terrazzo tile bathroom and midcentury-style patio. “I could definitely see Sammy and Sinatra hanging out here.”
For Jenkins — director of such offbeat independent offerings as “Slums of Beverly Hills” and “The Savages,” opening Friday — the Valley of the Sun is a veritable gold mine of camera-ready backdrops. The Philadelphia-born filmmaker is back in town to promote “The Savages,” part of which she shot in the retirement oasis of Sun City.
Starring Laura Linney (“The Truman Show”) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) as estranged siblings Wendy and Jon Savage, the film shines humane, humorous light on the specter of personal failure and the life-altering burden of elder care. Character actor Philip Bosco plays the senile, infirm Savage patriarch, uprooted by his children from Sun City and rudely shipped back to frozen upstate New York.
Like “Slums of Beverly Hills” — her debut 1998 feature, starring Natasha Lyonne and Alan Arkin — the movie is based on her own, albeit artistically embellished, experiences.
“It’s really personal, not strictly autobiographical, but certainly inspired by my family,” she says. “I’ve cared for two relatives, my father and a grandmother, and I think anybody who goes through that comes away a little bit changed.”
Indeed, with the baby-boomer generation inching into dotage, it stands to reason that many Americans will be making the same pilgrimage to Sun City as the Savage sibling in the coming decades — although that part of the movie was not culled from Jenkins’ experience.
“That part was fiction,” she says. “I read about Sun City, and I thought it would be a great place for (Bosco’s) locale. It’s such a heightened environment, so antithetical to the East Coast. Lot of photographers have documented it. And I thought it made a neat contrast against that brutal, Buffalo environment.”
The movie also gave Jenkins — in Hollywood terms, a late bloomer who graduated from New York University’s graduate film program in her 30s — the chance to work with two of the industry’s most sought-after acting talents. Although Linney has played similar characters before, most notably in the bittersweet sibling drama “You Can Count on Me” (2000), Jenkins suggests that the current role obliged the actress to explore virgin emotional territory.
To wit, Jenkins says her favorite scene in “The Savages” is the one in which Linney’s character hysterically scours a bargain-basement retirement home for a throw pillow that she bought for her dying father, who has long since passed the point of worrying about pillows.
“Laura has this incredibly unhinged hysteria,” says Jenkins, describing the scene. “It’s fun because she’s always a little more controlled.”