Movie review: “The Savages”

The Savages (2007) stars Laura Linney as Wendy and Philip Seymour Hoffman as her older brother Jon. (Trailer here).

Wendy lives on her own in New York City, holding down a temp job although she secretly yearns to become a playwright. Plagued by depression and anxiety, and apparently unable to have a ‘normal’ relationship as a result of her childhood, she is having an affair with a married man. Brother Jon lives in Buffalo, New York, and works at a university; he is writing a book about German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Like his sister, he finds it impossible to commit to a relationship.

Jon and Wendy receive a phone call that their estranged father, Lenny (played by Philip Bosco) is behaving in socially unacceptable ways. (Best not to go into details.) Lenny has been ‘living in sin’ with a woman (not their mother) for the last 20 years. In addition, the elderly woman he’s been living with has died, and her family wants Lenny to leave.

Reluctantly, they pack their things and meet up in Sun City, Arizona – an almost creepily perfect-and-pristine-looking retirement village. It turns out that Dad has dementia – he occasionally doesn’t recognise them, has lapses in memory, periods of time where he stares vacantly into space, and outbursts of anger (although this is nothing new).

Amidst much fighting and bickering, Jon and Wendy move Lenny into a nursing home in Buffalo, and Wendy moves in with Jon so that they can look after Lenny for the last weeks of his life. Both struggle to deal with their suppressed anger, half-forgotten childhood memories, and their resentment of their abusive and emotionally absent father, and gradually start to realise how their inability to process their childhood experiences has formed them as adults.

I thought it was a really good movie of family dynamics in a time of crisis: sometimes funny, often painful, occasionally explosive. 

Definitely a movie to watch if you have elderly parents and if you know that you will one day have to ask those uncomfortable but necessary questions that most of us don’t want to ask, like: “Do you want to move into a retirement village, or come stay with us?” “What if you are in coma – do you want to be on life support, or not?” “Would you prefer to be cremated, or buried?”

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Other movies we’ve watched in July:  

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