Laura Linney as Wendy Savage
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jon Savage
Philip Bosco as Lenny Savage
Peter Friedman as Larry
David Zayas as Eduardo
Gbenga Akinnagbe as Jimmy
Cara Seymour as Kasia
Tonye Patano as Ms. Robinson
Guy Boyd as Bill Lachman
Debra Monk as Nancy Lachman
Rosemary Murphy as Doris Metzger
Hal Blankenship as Burt
Directed by Tamara Jenkins
(Note: This review was previously posted in an altered version as part of ComingSoon.net’s Sundance coverage)
Tamara Jenkins’ examination of how two siblings deal with an aging parent with deteriorating health combines dark humor with real-life sentimentality that can easily be enjoyed on many different levels.
Wendy and Jon Savage (Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman) are competitive siblings who find themselves having to care for their elderly father Lenny (Philip Bosco) when he starts to show early signs of dementia, forcing the duo to spend time thinking of others than themselves.
It’s been eight years since Tamara Jenkins’ “Slums of Beverly Hills” and she’s returned with another movie taken from her own personal life but adding situations that feel so real and plausible despite the outlandish places where it takes the characters.
Kicking off with an MGM-like dance number in the auspicious Sun City, AZ locale where the elderly Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) lives with his common law wife until she suddenly dies. Lenny’s kids Jon and Wendy (Hoffman, Linney) haven’t seen their father in years, having escaped their dysfunctional family ties to set up new lives for themselves on the East Coast, but when Lenny starts showing signs of dementia, his kids are called to Arizona to determine what to do with him. Suddenly, the two siblings have to deal with things like adult diapers and the tough decision whether to put their father in a retirement home.
While Jenkins’ film is a dark comedy, it finds its humor in the real world by encapsulating the emotions that many 30-somethings must experience when their parents start to get older and less cognizant of what’s going on around them. Some might attribute the familiar vibe of the film’s humorous tone to the time Jenkins must spend with her husband and the film’s co-exec producer Jim Taylor, best known for his many collaborations with Alex Payne (another E.P.) on movies like “Sideways” but Jenkins does have her own voice, which makes one feel comfortable laughing at things which one normally might not find so funny.
More interesting than the movie’s themes of coping with aging is the relationship between John and Wendy and how their own lives and dreams are suddenly put on hold by the needs of their father. Wendy is a far more fragile and vulnerable role we’ve seen Laura Linney play in recent memory, as her need for love and appreciation from her father gets her into an unhealthy affair with an older married man, while John is trying to deal with his Polish girlfriend preparing to leave the country. There’s a poignancy to the kinship of this duo, and much of the film’s humor comes from their naturally competitive nature. Needless to say, Hoffman and Linney are very convincing as squabbling siblings, as they fire-off Jenkins’ sharp dialogue with the perfect timing only two talented actors could muster. Even some of the throwaway lines are hilarious thanks to Hoffman’s deadpan delivery, although some might find the situations hit way too close to let themselves laugh at them. Likewise, theatre vet Philip Bosco plays a strong third wheel as their cantankerous father who’s cut from similar cloth as Alan Arkin in last year’s indie hit “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Despite Jenkins’ competent ability to handle the material in a light manner, the film starts to get somewhat depressing as things get darker and more serious, and it’s always apparent that Lenny’s deteriorating condition can only leave the story with one possible outcome.
The Bottom Line:
Like the work of Alexander Payne, “The Savages” won’t be for everyone, but anyone who has suffered the loss of an elderly parent or even watched their health deteriorate might appreciate Jenkins’ ability to create a movie that combines humor and pathos in a way that creates the perfect cathartic release for anyone who has experienced similar incidents. Jenkins’ ability to find that resonance with her audience is what ultimately makes the film work so well.