The Savages

As two siblings faced with caring for their dying father, Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman channel our fears of aging in the dramedy THE SAVAGES.

Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Released by 20th Century Fox
114 min (2007)

Visually bright but emotionally disturbing, THE SAVAGES is very adult film.   In this excellent follow up to The Slums of Beverly Hills, director Tamara Jenkins deals with a theme so rarely depicted in Hollywood: the pain and frustration that goes along with caring for a dying parent.

Wendy (Laura Linney) and John (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Savage are two adult siblings who’ve never really had a parental figure in their life.   Their father Lenny (Philip Bosco) was abusive and emotionally distant, their mother “went on a date one night and never came back.”   Because of this, even though they’re heading into middle age, Wendy and John are still in many ways adolescents.   When the film opens, we see that John’s been writing the same book forever and refuses to commit to his longtime girlfriend.   Wannabe playwright Wendy, meanwhile, works as a temp and is having an affair with a married man.

Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman deserve enormous credit for turning the flawed Wendy and John into real people you care about.   In the hands of other actors, the Savages may have simply come across as vain and self-involved.   Philip Bosco is equally as good as their estranged father dying of dementia.   As he slowly loses his grip on reality there will be no tearful deathbed confessions of love from Lenny.

Instead the siblings find themselves finally having to grow up as they squabble over the best way to care for a man who never had the decency to care for them.   Death is a confusing and depressing subject and yet by making it real The Savages makes it oddly touching as well.

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