This would have been a 5 star movie if not for the ending. Even so, I would urge you to see it. They got so much right, even perfect, in MOST parts of this film. I was waiting for the DVD to come out and I ordered it (as of this review, it has not arrived but I've seen this one already)
UPDATE: Having now gone through the additional and special features on the DVD, I also wanted to say that they are not just simple "add ons" but help add perspective to this film. The actors speak about the fact the complexities of family relationships and Seymour-Hoffman adds his take (which can also be seen here on Amazon's own snippet from the film for now) that it isn't normal for children to be estranged from a parent. In this case, the children of a very difficult father are alienated from him.
The film struck home for me because I'm helping to care for two relatives, both elderly, one in a nursing home. Trust me, I know authenticity when it comes to catching the dynamics of family relationships, dealing with an elderly parent and all the issues that come into play. Even in the best of situations, there are tough days. Aging can go down hard and mental and physical decline, as portrayed so aptly in this film, isn't easy to watch.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are also excellent as brother and sister who have their own struggles with facing reality and dealing with an imperfect father. They have their own flawed and difficult lives and then, suddenly, they have total responsibility for their father, who is left without the girlfriend or backup support that the siblings thought was there. Now what?
That is the plot, in short. Hoffman manages to be clumsy but engaging, a trait he seems to have made into an art form in many films. In this one, he and his sister (Linney) have both tension and a bond between them. I could feel their pain when they were together and Linney's judgment of her brother's lifestyle...and yet they had to find a way to get through the situation with their father as well, however awkward that might be.
Of the two, Linney is the one who tries to be the "pleaser" and fix things. She goes through bouts of denial while her brother is less apt to turn away from reality. Yet Linney also seems to have more sympathy at times. Both Seymour-Hoffman and Linney work so well together, seeming perfectly believable as two very opposite sibling, both damaged by a very flawed parent. Now they have to care for that parent.
Everything seemed so real to me. I'd been in similar situations, faced with unexpected crisis. I know that "bumbling through" is sometimes the best we can do, although there are those of us who step up to the plate with grace, tact and composure at all times. This is a film for the rest of us.
Partly, I guess, this movie was about having to grow up, in spite of oneself. I am still struggling to be articulate about it because it pulled at me so strongly that it is hard to be objective - or anything approaching it. I simply loved this movie! It is, however, VERY slow-paced and the drama may not appeal to those who want something less real. It isn't really a feel good, escapist movie. It could even be called depressing by some, although I felt inspired by it, like someone understood the particular difficulty of dealing with an aged parent.
Also, Linney and Hoffman aren't schmaltzy. If you want to know if this film is for you, consider it a "slice of life" film about two people who have to handle a father's physical and emotional decline, senility and all that. If that doesn't sound appealing to you, by all means avoid it.
However, this film made me think about aging - and I had already thought about it plenty (or so I believed). It gave me new perspective on sibling relationships, flawed parents and it also was a very engaging film, in its own niche area.
I enjoyed the film immensely, with the exception of the ending - and I have to be honest about that, so there it is. It isn't nearly as dark as my outline of it may make it sound. There are quirky moments and humorous ones.
I do agree with the reviewer who noted that people who like films like The Good Girl and Little Children may also like this one. I like those types of films and am constantly intrigued by they psychological oddities of the human character. This film explores that territory, with a story line involving two siblings and an aging parent. Because so many Baby Boomers are both aging and handling elderly parents, this is a theme that deserves plenty of attention. I'm glad this film explores the subject.