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  Publicity Stills of "The Savages"
(Courtesy from 20th Century Fox)

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Cast: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, David Zayas
RunTime: 1 hr 53 mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Rating: NC-16 (Scene of Intimacy)
Official Website: www.foxsearchlight.com/thesavages

Opening Day: 17 January 2008


An irreverent look at life, love and mortality – through the lens of one of the most surreal experiences facing American families: when adult siblings are plucked from their everyday, ordinary, self-centered lives to care for an estranged elderly parent. There is a moment in everyone's life when childhood ends and adulthood begins, for Jon and Wendy Savage that moment is now.

Movie Review:

Are we being humane and filial by putting our parents in an old folks home, or do we feel guilty in doing so? Like peers around my age, we sometimes do think about issues, maccabre as it may sound, as to what we'll do with a surviving parent when he/she suffers from illness that need medical attention, or at the bare minimum, someone to care for and just be around in case of emergencies. For the less well off, top of the line resort styled homes and dedicated nurses might not cut it, so a community home might serve as the next best alternative, if not, the only alternative to turn to, when other family members appear to want to shirk responsibility.

The film opens in Sun City, Arizona, where an elderly man, Leonard Savage (Philip Bosco) begins to show signs of dementia when he scrawls obscene words using his own fecal matter. When his companion kicked the bucket, he is forced to leave the home they share, and it is up to his own children, Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to figure out how best to accommodate their dad, much less to put up with his physical presence, but more of trying to reach out to an elderly man whose memory is slowly failing him.

While this is a small movie in the sense that it has no big sets or long drawn emotional scenes for the purpose of wringing your heart out, it is deliberately quiet, as if to bring out that quiet dignity that the elderly are struggling to live their remaining years to the fullest, especially when disease stand in the way of the ideal retirement. It puts the spotlight on selfishness, about the "Me" attitude, and whether we
as children, subconsciously make their life no better, try as we might, by putting our folks in spot, not knowing if it's their wish to do so. One poignant scene in a diner highlighted the lack of sensitivity that I feel most of us will struggle with, in exactly the same terms.

What makes this movie a winner, is the world class portrayals by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the squabbling siblings who can't, for the love of their father, seem to settle on their differences and come to amicable conclusions, well, at least not yet. The daughter is the sensitive and sentimental one, while the son is the pragmatist. Having different characteristics and ideals, they spend the most parts arguing, and in doing so, providing justification for their actions, which you will find yourself agreeing to, depending on which side of the fence you stand on.

In actuality, Laura Linney's Wendy seemed the more fleshed out of the two siblings, as we get to see more of the issues she's struggling with, plus a peek into her private, but active and probably confused sex life. She wears her guilt on her sleeve, which makes Hoffman's Jon remark at a point, that upward mobility in wanting to put your folks in expensive places which provides somewhat similar functions of care, is akin to masking the guilt each of them face in having to abandon their aged father. I thought this point struck a home run, and now wonder whether in business terms, this is a no brainer situation for those running a business, to exploit weaknesses of either greed or guilt, in order to make tidy profits.

But it's all not doom and gloom in this movie, as there are ample scenes of comedy, not the usual laugh out loud moments, but situations enough to bring out some healthy chuckle from deep within, lightening the mood a little as the going gets tougher. That bit with the support group meeting, never fails to crack me up.

While the synopsis mentions that the story's told through the lens of experiences facing American families, in no doubt with our aging population, these are going to be precisely the similar issues that we're going to face soon, if not already on a personal basis.

Movie Rating:

(World class chemistry between Linney and Hoffman makes The Savages a class of its own)

Review by Stefan Shih


. Capote (2006)

. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

. The King (2005)

. P.S. DVD (2004)

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