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Posted October 1, 2010
Capturing the Drama of Our Everyday Simple Existence
How we all come to grips with our mortality is often previewed in how we manage the care of our elders. When that elder care is focused on a parent, as it is in Tamara Jenkins's brilliant film THE SAVAGES, it not only strikes chords with individual philosophies, but is also reveals the intricacies of family relationships that come into play in coping with the final days of a parent's life. Though there is little story to this film, this is a character study about isolation, loneliness, and need that will touch the hearts of sensitive viewers. Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) is a frustrated unpublished playwright working as a temp, a bright woman whose insecurities limit her emotional activity to an affair with a 'safe' married man Larry (Peter Friedman). Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman), her older brother, is a professor of philosophy who is writing a book on the theater of the absurd of Bertolt Brecht while living in Buffalo with a Polish woman, Kasia (Cara Seymour), who, because Jon does not wish to commit to marriage, is forcing his only emotional tie to return to Poland when her Visa expires. Wendy and Jon were deserted by their mother at an early age, left in the care of their abusive father Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco), and both siblings have distanced themselves from their father now living in Sun City, Arizona with his girlfriend of twenty years. Lenny's girlfriend dies and the signs of Lenny's rapidly encroaching dementia force Wendy and Jon to fly to Arizona to 'make arrangements' for their demented father. Coming together under duress the two siblings are forced to confront their own frustrations together with the realities of placing Lenny in a nursing home. Lenny is moved from Arizona to Buffalo, NY and the manner in which Jon and Wendy cope with the new 'family' arrangement raises problems of guilt, memories of their childhood, resentment, and ultimately the manner in which they continue with their lives. The film could have easily become a diatribe against current nursing home conditions, but instead Jenkins through her superb script and direction levels the playing field, allowing the family frustrations to play out in equal time with the vantage of the caregivers (well played by David Zayas, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Margo Martindale, Tonye Patano, Nancy Lenehan, Tijuana Ricks, and others). But the real power of this film comes from the bravura performances by Linney, Hoffman, and Bosco. These three actors can do more with silences and facial and body expressions that just about anyone on the screens today. Watching these gifted actors at their trade makes for a stunning film experience and one that shakes us all a bit to think about things we don't wish to consider - death, care of the elderly, and finding life in a world that usually runs a bit on the crazy side. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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