Written by: Tamara Jenkins
Starring: Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Peter Friedman, Guy Boyd
Of the many hardships we take when entering adulthood one of the more distressing is the reality of needing to take care of our parents when they eventually begin to break down physically and mentally. It comes with a gauntlet of emotions ranging from guilt, fear, and anger as the person who raised you reaches the end of their time on Earth. The Savages takes a deft look at this subject matter while giving us two wonderfully complex characters.
After the passing of his girlfriend, the father of Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) needs to find a place to live with his estranged children carrying the burden This leaves them in the position to care of a man who did nothing good in their lives but brings them closer than they have been in years.
The subject matter covered in this feature will have many running away at the thought with good reason as it’s one of those things you never want to think about but will eventually encounter. Death comes as the natural conclusion of everyone’s life and in the case of Wendy and Jon, they had no idea it would get to this point so quickly with their father. This suddenness prompts them into action and abruptly back into each other’s lives making for a touching movie about facing this brutal reality.
Unsurprisingly, with a topic no one wants to talk about, not many movies exist wanting to touch on it. Looking at what transpires in the film, it makes complete sense as it’s bleak trying to find a place that will adequately take care of another human being for the rest of their days. This process comes with the guilt of putting away your parent in the first place, which can weigh plenty on someone’s mind but then finding the appropriate place for them when any half-decent option would cost a fortune makes this process all the more heartbreaking to do. However, it would be one thing if this occurs with a parent you have loved your entire life, but this feature presents the outlook of no substantive relationship, to begin with.
From the onset of the discussion shared by the two siblings, it becomes evident they do not have much of a relationship with their father and we receive breadcrumbs providing the larger picture. This leaves Jon in the place of just finding a place that takes Medicaid while Wendy wants to search for something better for their father despite the issues existent between them. It demonstrates where each of them lies emotionally but also the connection they have with the idea of their father rather than the substance of his character. Sure, the man they knew before did not show them much love but at the point of suffering from dementia and mostly physically unable to really operate they feel the obligation to help. At this stage, their father represents a human being needing care holding their last name and it puts them at odds in moments.
Of the many cogent observations brought up in the feature, the idea of marketing nursing homes never truly occurred to me, which this film astutely brings up. The marketing making Wendy feel inadequate for putting her father in a Medicaid nursing home brings up the idea more should be provided, which gets pierced through by Jon. He speaks on how the marketing aims at the children of these older individuals to feel better about themselves about the reality they are dumping off their parents in the place where they will eventually die. Nothing pretty about it but it comes as something Wendy seeks for herself rather than for the sake of her father as much as she attempts to dress it up that way. The exchange between them where they discuss this really drives the point home and becomes part of the brilliant showcase put on by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Two tremendous actors, these two completely put on a show here in delving into the messiness of these characters and the remnants of what occurred to them in their childhood rearing its ugly head again to haunt them. Linney captures the lack of direction Wendy feels as she finds herself in an affair with a married man and unable to find herself in the career she wished for as a playwright in New York City. Then you have Hoffman’s turn as Jon, who may have it all figured out regarding his career as a professor but seemingly cannot piece it together emotionally and his relationships. Each of these dynamics informs how they interact with their father and these two actors demonstrate the sadness involved with this but also the moments where laughter can creep its way through.
A thoroughly touching story, which can describe many of the works by Tamara Jenkins, The Savages deals with a terrible situation and opens up its heart to show the vulnerability of these two characters as they struggle with how to move forward. It reminds you how much we need more films made by Jenkins in the way she can beautifully dissect these delicate circumstances with so much care, much like with Private Life on the topic of adopting a child. The world needs more of her incredible writing and directing ability, especially when she delivers absolute bangers like this feature.