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The Savages Movie Review

by Prairie Miller

Possibly the second worst ordeal rearing its head during midlife crisis - after the one where you've got to figure out what to do with whatever's left of your time on this earth - is facing up to elderly parents sorting out the rest of their lives, and with more than a little help from adult kids who must suddenly care for them. That's a pretty depressing thought for the basis of a movie, and it indeed is. But The Savages tempers that deep funk with touching moments we recognize instantly as everyday life, and filled with humor, quirkiness, sheer exasperation and, yes, heartbreak.

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills) has created a perfect match made in heaven and played out in dysfunctional family hell in The Savages, with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as borderline fortysomething neurotic siblings forced to reunite when their crabby elderly dad Lenny (Philip Bosco) is crippled with advanced senility. Hoffman is Jon Savage, a theater professor in Buffalo living with a Polish woman whose visa is about to expire. And even though her fabulous eggs that she cooks up for breakfast inevitably bring him to tears, he's unable to bring himself to commit and is in the process of sending her back home to Poland.

Kid sister Wendy (Laura Linney) likewise fears genuine intimacy, carrying on a longterm stagnant affair with a older married neighbor, who sneaks around for hot quickies during breaks from walking his dog around the block. Underachiever New Yorker Wendy is also stuck in neutral when it comes to taking career risks, fretting over a drawer full of unproduced plays she's written on the sly between a series of downscale temp jobs. There are intimations dropped throughout The Savages that both of these scarred souls have matriculated into adulthood with heaps of unresolved emotional baggage stemming from a mother who abandoned them in childhood, and a harsh, rejecting father.

So with their own lives in extreme disarray, these two contentious siblings are hardly equipped, to say the least, when Dad's longtime girlfriend at their Arizona senior retirement community love nest suddenly croaks and her own children who happen to own the home, kick him out. Lenny's also been rapidly deteriorating, taken to writing angry messages on the bathroom walls with his excrement. Jon hastily stakes out a convenient if less than cozy nursing home for Lenny near his home in Buffalo, and the two squabbling kids also settle in for their mutual readjustment to this worrisome institutionalization and tentative rebuilding of their long fractured, profoundly damaged family ties.

The Savages - unlike the steady stream of grim tearjerkers wallowing in disease and death where patients and families inevitably divide up into stereotypical saints, villains and victims - graces its subject matter with a stirring, genuine humanity, however flawed. And Hoffman, Linney and Bosco together generate such magnificent performances projecting a richly textured sense of the agony and ecstasy of a family in complicated meltdown, that it feels about as close to shared DNA as you can get.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rated R
4 stars

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