‘The Savages’ tackles serious subject with fine cast
It’s difficult to watch a film that mirrors reality that is often not spoken of until it happens. When the matter concerns an aging parent, it sometimes reminds us that as we continue to grow older, our parents are going to need some care and decisions from their kids that will determine how they live out the remainder of their years, hopefully in as much comfort as possible.
Writer-director Tamara Jenkins has waited a long time to do a follow-up to her 1998 cult movie, “The Slums of Beverly Hills.” What Jenkins does in “The Savages” is remind us of our own mortality (thanks a lot, Tamara) but surrounds the serious subject matter with a terrific cast.
Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman play siblings who are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how Dad – who is suffering from dementia – should be cared for. Dad is played by Philip Bosco, and his kids, Jon (Hoffman) and Wendy (Linney), still are coping with how they were raised by him, and, yes, it does get into that whole parental upbringing and how parents probably could have done a better job scenario.
The movie doesn’t slide into the “woe is me” attitude but shows how each sibling turned out based on their individual upbringing. Complicating matters is that Dad and the kids live in different parts of the country, mirroring what many of today’s families are going through. Unlike the old days, when families stayed in the same hometown for generations, today’s mobile society makes it virtually impossible to remain in the same place because of career opportunities or advancement.
Wendy is a playwright who hasn’t had her work published and supports herself through a series of odd jobs. At age 39 and struggling, her only companion is her cat. Oh, yeah, she’s also having an affair with a married man (Peter Friedman) in the same neighborhood.
Her brother is also a creative type, working as a theater professor. At age 42, he lives with a Polish émigré but isn’t ready to settle down. He must finish his novel first, so when the problems with Dad arise, for him it just becomes a burden that must be dealt with so that he can get back and finish his book.
On top of their personal demons, both brother and sister are embroiled in a jealous rivalry because each thinks that the other one’s career is interfering with the proper care for dear old Dad, when in reality neither can seem to commit to a serious relationship and so, of course, blame Dad. They can’t blame their mother, because she already abandoned them when they were young.
The film offers up no concrete answers as to how we should care for elderly parents but instead shows the strain of how lives are interrupted when the inevitable happens. It’s more a reminder of what we should be doing, because the government doesn’t offer too many options.
Hoffman and Linney are superb and convincing playing siblings and, given their movie track records, I would have to rank this flick in the top 10 for both of them.
Although out in a limited capacity, I’m hoping that with a wider release, more people will make the time to check out this movie. Despite the title, “The Savages” is filled with some gut-wrenching moments, and you can feel the despair and guilt from the characters trying to come up with a solution to Dad’s dementia, but at its heart is very compassionate when dealing with something so tragic.
Hats off to director Jenkins for walking a fine line, tackling a sensitive topic but not sinking into some sappy abyss with forced humor to vent off the seriousness of the subject matter. Rather, she lets the story play out how it might happen with siblings who are more centered on themselves and are forced to grow up when their parent really needs them.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout Northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio, and you can see his film reviews on RSN.
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