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The last thing the two Savage siblings ever wanted to do was look back on their undeniably dysfunctional family legacy. Wendy (Academy Award nominee Laura Linney) is a self medicating struggling East Village playwright, AKA a temp who spends her days applying for grants and stealing office supplies, dating her very married neighbor. Jon (Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an obsessive compulsive college professor writing obscure books on even more obscure subjects in Buffalo who still can't commit to his girlfriend after four years even though her cooking brings him tears of joy. Then, out of the blue, comes the call that changes everything - the call that informs them that the father they have long feared and avoided, Lenny Savage (Tony Award winner Philip Bosco), has lost his marbles. And there is no one to help him but his kids. Now, as they put the middle of their already arrested lives on hold, Wendy and Jon are forced to live together under one roof for the first time since childhood, soon rediscovering the eccentricities that drove each other crazy. Faced with complete upheaval and the ultimate sibling rivalry battle over how to handle their father's final days, they are forced to face the past and finally start to realize what adulthood, family and, most surprisingly, each other are really about.
It's almost impossible to describe The Savages in a way that makes it sound as richly engaging and enjoyable as it is. The story sounds bleak: Two unhappy siblings--Wendy (Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me) and Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote)--are forced to grapple with their dying father (Philip Bosco, Damages) as he slips into dementia. But this spare outline doesn't capture the wealth of human detail that the script and performances contain. Linney and Hoffman vividly portray the sort of cluttered, precarious relationship that brothers and sisters can have, thick with past grievances but also unspoken affections and connections that can't even be articulated. As Wendy and Jon struggle to make some kind of peace with their difficult father, watching these wonderfully understated yet compelling actors is a pleasure unto itself. But the script and direction deserve these actors; filmmaker Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills) finds honest emotion and sly, sideways humor in the starkness of mortality. She doesn't force any easy epiphanies on her story, but lets the characters find solace through their own clumsy efforts. Anyone who appreciates the messiness of humanity--the territory that Hollywood movies seem to have surrendered to smart indie films like The Squid and the Whale, Little Children, or The Good Girl--will find The Savages a smart, genuine, and empathic portrait of life. --Bret Fetzer
Beyond The Savages
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Top customer reviews
The whole idea of relinquishing the past to get on with the future isn't new, but Tamara Jenkins's script is very sharp, and Linney and Hoffman are perfectly matched as the cock-eyed optimist and the Gloomy Gus. They can't stand each other, but they need each other. Phil Bosco is excellent, too.
These two are in a horrible situation. They are quickly subjected to having to deal with the care of their elderly father, after not seeing him for years and without any prior notice. They do know him quite well, and this is why they haven't seen him. They were brought up by this very cold-mannered, abusive man who neglected them while their past with him is alluded to often in different ways. His deplorable nature towards them is the most evident. This has caused these two to have many issues in their own lives involving intimacy. Through it all, Wendy and Jon care for each other, their father together and do so with an off-tilt humor that can dig through all the messes and find itself quite humorous in parts.
Tamara Jenkins, writer, and director of this slice of life and space of time picture, could not have chosen more esteemed actors to pull this into reality and give it the necessary punch of feeling which it deserves. While Wendy and Jon may seem somewhat closed-off at first and have good reason to be, they most certainly are not for the long haul. They run the gamut of emotions in their own unique ways during the short amount of time this movie captures in their lives.
This brings to light the ways caring for an elderly parent can affect the adult children with much baggage onboard. In their case, it's brought on unexpectedly, suddenly, and sends Wendy into a panic causing her to call her brother Jon. She has not seen her brother in a very long time. These two take charge of the matter brilliantly. With a dark plot their switches into humor are sometimes subtle, then blatant, and is very much appreciated during all the chaos of a family in turmoil while their father loses his physical and mental faculties. Their lives before that 'never can be ready for' phone call was self-absorbed and noticeably self-involved. Their personal relationships were less than satisfying and either codependent or full of escapism, never really being able to find the happiness that they are seeking. Realizing their own mortality now more than ever, will their father glimpse what he has put his children through?
After they go through all that they do concerning their father and their own fledgling relationship with each other, you are left knowing that they will remain the brother and sister they become. They will be much richer for it, as they each realize the importance of having each other. Some may say this is in no way a feel good movie and basically, it is not, how could it really be? After the movie's end, it left me feeling better for these two siblings and the relationship they will keep building on through the unsettling way they were forced to begin it over again.
This film held my interest from start to finish. You'll laugh, you'll cry - what more can you ask?