While I found both Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffmans performances excellent, I felt the portrayal of a parent with dementia barely scratched the surface. I have had a parent with dementia and been through the entire experience of helplessly watching my parent decline and eventually succumb to the disease. This film was more about the relationship between the siblings, and coping with their own lives rather than dealing with the devastating effects of dementia. Perhaps because seeing the reality of the decline of a person's mental capacity would simply be too much for an audience to bear or take in, it hasn't been fully portrayed. I found the film illustrated the father's dementia in too neat and tidy of a package. It also seemed that he barely spent any time at all in the home, which incidentally was one of the cleaner and nicest ones I have seen(!) In reality, a person with dementia can spend many, many years in a home. The emotional effects and stress of caring for a parent in this state end up taking center stage in a person's life, leaving little time to spend brooding or worrying about oneself as was depicted in the film.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
I HAD to write a review of a film that resonated so deeply for meApril 21 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Born to be savage: a life time penaltyMay 2 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
The film handles brillantly a common challenge that many of us have to face: what to do with a demented parent. The general problem is generic, the individual circumstances vary according to our situation in life. Money helps. A functional family life helps. Benevolent geography helps. Linney and Hoffman are among the best contemporary actors, and they give us two people with enough problems of their own, who didn't need a demented father dropping from the sky on them, which happens due to the death of his life partner. They are siblings from a 'dysfunctional' family, the father had disappeared from their life for 20 years, he is remembered as unloving and abusive, and he does behave in a way that one would not want to meet him in real life. His 'kids' are struggling middle aged intellectuals, with pityful emotional lives, but still hopeful for improvement. (You get to hear Hoffman sing a Brecht song in German; consider this a bonus.) Some underdeveloped mind had classified this film as a 'comedy'. That was what we expected when we started watching the film, but we soon realized how far off that label is. I mention this because it gives a good contrast to one of the strong features of the film and of its characters: there is a sense of humor in the midst of sadness. The Savages definitely would have deserved at least 2 acting award nominations at the last Oscars.
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Capturing the Drama of Our Everyday Simple ExistenceApril 24 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
How we all come to grips with our mortality is often previewed in how we manage the care of our elders. When that elder care is focused on a parent, as it is in Tamara Jenkins's brilliant film THE SAVAGES, it not only strikes chords with individual philosophies, but is also reveals the intricacies of family relationships that come into play in coping with the final days of a parent's life. Though there is little story to this film, this is a character study about isolation, loneliness, and need that will touch the hearts of sensitive viewers.
Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) is a frustrated unpublished playwright working as a temp, a bright woman whose insecurities limit her emotional activity to an affair with a 'safe' married man Larry (Peter Friedman). Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman), her older brother, is a professor of philosophy who is writing a book on the theater of the absurd of Bertolt Brecht while living in Buffalo with a Polish woman, Kasia (Cara Seymour), who, because Jon does not wish to commit to marriage, is forcing his only emotional tie to return to Poland when her Visa expires. Wendy and Jon were deserted by their mother at an early age, left in the care of their abusive father Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco), and both siblings have distanced themselves from their father now living in Sun City, Arizona with his girlfriend of twenty years. Lenny's girlfriend dies and the signs of Lenny's rapidly encroaching dementia force Wendy and Jon to fly to Arizona to 'make arrangements' for their demented father. Coming together under duress the two siblings are forced to confront their own frustrations together with the realities of placing Lenny in a nursing home. Lenny is moved from Arizona to Buffalo, NY and the manner in which Jon and Wendy cope with the new 'family' arrangement raises problems of guilt, memories of their childhood, resentment, and ultimately the manner in which they continue with their lives.
The film could have easily become a diatribe against current nursing home conditions, but instead Jenkins through her superb script and direction levels the playing field, allowing the family frustrations to play out in equal time with the vantage point of the caregivers (well played by David Zayas, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Margo Martindale, Tonye Patano, Nancy Lenehan, Tijuana Ricks, and others). But the real power of this film comes from the bravura performances by Linney, Hoffman, and Bosco. These three actors can do more with silences and facial and body expressions that just about anyone on the screens today. Watching these gifted actors at their trade makes for a stunning film experience and one that shakes us all a bit to think about things we don't wish to consider - death, care of the elderly, and finding life in a world that usually runs a bit on the crazy side. Another quality aspect of this film is the quiet, mood enhancing musical score by Stephen Trask, who manages to combine childlike songs with simple line piano music to underscore the intimate moods of the story. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, April 08
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
"We're taking better care of the old man than he ever did of us."Dec 4 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman shine is the seriocomic film, "The Savages," written and directed by Tamara Jenkins. Linney is Wendy Savage, a thirty-nine year old office temp and aspiring playwright. Hoffman plays forty-two year old Jon Savage, a theater professor in Buffalo who specializes in the works of Berthold Brecht. Neither Jon nor Wendy is particularly successful, although Jon does have a steady job and is working on a book. Both have managed to make a mess of their personal lives. Jon has a Polish girlfriend who is about to return to her country; he loves her but cannot make a permanent commitment. Wendy settles for quick and humiliating liaisons with a married man, instead of seeking a long-term relationship with someone who is free to give her the love that she craves.
The siblings have never been particularly close, but they are reluctantly thrown together when their elderly father, Leonard Savage, is ejected from the Sun City, Arizona retirement home where he sponged off his girlfriend for years. Leonard is becoming forgetful and agitated, and the two younger Savages must decide what to do for a father who abused and neglected them. Jon dutifully arranges for Leonard to be placed in a decent enough facility in Buffalo, but Wendy is so upset by her father's decline that she unfairly lashes out at her brother. As the weeks pass, the two try to put their rancor aside and begin to empathize with one another. They also start to realize that there is a statute of limitations on blaming your parents for everything that is wrong with your life.
Tamara Jenkins nicely balances humor and poignancy in a film that is moving but never schmaltzy. The veteran actors include Philip Bosco, as the angry and confused Leonard Savage, a man who furiously rails against the dying of the light. Although he barely knows his children, he knows that he doesn't much care for them. Hoffman embodies the scruffy intellectual who is more expert in German theater than he is in interpersonal relationships. Linney delivers a beautifully nuanced performance as an insecure woman who is so out of touch with her feelings that, at times, she can barely think straight; her tirades try the patience of her long-suffering brother as well as of the nursing home staff. The fine supporting cast includes Peter Friedman as Wendy's irritating lover and Gbenga Akinnagbe, a compassionate orderly who does what he can to boost Wendy's self-confidence. The sole false note comes at the end, which is a bit too neat considering what has gone before. However, "The Savages" is worth seeing for its understated satirical humor, outstanding performances, and unflinching depiction of the horrors of old age.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Two Oscar-worthy performances and a thoughtful script!March 13 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney give us a pair of performances right out of their standard playbooks...and the remarkable thing is that they both work so well. Hoffman's slobby demeanor, unshaven face, red eyes and a delivery so bored you can tell it just feels like his character can barely stand the idea of talking are nothing new...but they are still effective. Linney gives another over-energized, on-the-edge but super intelligent performance...again, nothing new...but still very welcome.
These two play siblings of the Savage family, who, while not exactly estranged, probably aren't spending much time with each other either. Hoffman is a Brecht scholar and professor in Buffalo, and Linney works as a temp in NYC, while waiting for a grant that will allow her to pursue her dreams of playwrighting. They are brought together when they have to bring their father (Philip Bosco) back to New York after his long-time girlfriend dies. Dad is suffering from early stages of dementia and has other ailments, so Hoffman persuades Linney that the only place for dad is a nursing home.
I fully expected this movie to be an indictment against our treatment of the elderly, or one of those family dramas where everyone yells at each other all the time. Instead, the siblings are mostly uncomfortable with each other. Each is in the end-stages of relationships and neither feels comfortable sharing much about their personal lives. They agree to live together for a little while, so they can trade off looking in on dad. The movie mostly explores their brittle relationship with each other. Dad clearly wasn't much in the parenting department, and no doubt his kids owe a lot of their failures and foibles to that fact...but Dad is now mostly a non-entity. He sometimes recognizes them, and sometimes he resists efforts to move him or change his clothes...but mostly he is lost and passive. He's hardly the man they both grew to dislike...he's mostly an obligation. To the credit of the brother and sister, they never argue over who will "take care of dad" or spout clichés like "you're getting off easy." They both understand that this burden has fallen to them, and while not happy about, they will handle it.
Hoffman is more practical. He finds Dad a nursing home near his house. It's got a plain exterior and feels like a hospital. They take medicare and can provide for dad. (In fact, I really enjoyed the fact that this home, while still somewhat depressing, actually cared for its patients, treated them with respect and didn't generate any enmity from the audience.) To Hoffman, the place is fine. Linney wants dad somewhere "nicer," preferably a place in Vermont. She is somewhat driven to find her dad a nicer spot...probably out of some misplaced guilt.
Not a lot happens in this film. Director and writer Tamara Jenkins is very blessed to have these two great actors, because they make all their interactions crackle with wit, sadness and believability. They love each other...but not in a way that gives them much joy. They are siblings who share little beyond an appreciation for theatre and a dieing father. Yet in many ways, the movie shows them jockeying for the approval of the other. Linney wants to be successful in her brother's eyes, because she thinks he looks down on her. Truth is, he doesn't look down on her all that much...but he's pretty down on himself too and that drags everyone under. Hoffman and Linney are a great cinematic team, and I'd love to see them work together on something again. They whole time I was watching them, I was imagining seeing them in a play together...that would be worth seeing.
Philip Bosco is also VERY good as the father. His expression alternates from confusion to anger to disappointment to sadness to emptiness to very mild happiness. He's not an easy guy to like...but he is by no means the clichés dementia victim so many movies dish out. In fact, Jenkins has made all three characters very specific and unique. While it's always a bit heavy-handed to see characters who are writers or "in theatre," even that works for this film, because these two have to live out pretend lives because their real lives hold so little joy. (It's a very nice touch that Hoffman is a Brecht scholar...Brecht was all about the head and not the heart. He didn't want his plays to have real emotion...Hoffman's character is somewhat afraid of real emotion too.)
This isn't an earth-shattering film. It has moments of great humor and also some sadness. Mostly, it just feels like a fairly believable slice-of-life. It's not an important film...but it has some great performances, and that makes it very worthwhile.