edit – If anyone reads this, I would really really love to do a PSH blogothon of sorts and get as many people who read this to write about their favorite Hoffman film. People can double up I don’t care, I’d just love to read a bunch of reviews from you guys about a film with the great actor in it, big or small.
Let me know if there is any interest in this in the comments below, or just send me an email
Directed and Written by Tamara Jenkins
The Savages is a deceptively simple story that is not only emotionally heavy, but almost any person who watches it will be able to relate to it in some way. An elderly man is losing his faculties and is slowly slipping into dementia, forcing his family to intervene as his partner of many years has passed away. This is emphasised in comedic fashion as just before his partner passes away, when see a scene where Lenny Savage forgets to flush the toilet. The man caring for his partner tells him that he isn’t being paid to look after him, and tells him to go clean up the mess he has left. To hammer the point home he takes away Lenny’s cereal, telling him he can have it back after he cleans up after himself.
Lenny goes to the bathroom and closes the door, and as the minutes go by we begin to wonder the worst, I was actually imagining him trying to escape out a window. But nothing bad has happened at all, Lenny is just expressing himself in what seems to be the only way he can: by writing the word ‘prick’ on the bathroom wall with his own feces. This leads to a quick phone call to Lenny’s children, first his daughter Wendy Savage, played with an innocent vigour by Laura Linney, who then passes the news on to her slightly smug, selfish, intellectual brother – a subtle but memorable turn by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Neither have seen their father in years, nor have they seen each other for a while, making the news feel even more heavy as it is the only reason the two siblings have to reunite: to help their father. When they finally do see him for the first time in years, they are shocked, and Wendy is finding it hard to process the information. But they are forced to face the upsetting reality.
Wendy denies this reality with everything she has, forcing her brother to eventually remark “don’t paint me as the evil brother who forced our father into a nursing home”. Jon finds a suitable place for their father to stay, but unfortunately their father thinks he is staying in a hotel. He doesn’t realise where he is living, and the siblings have to try and tell their father that he is currently living in a Nurshing Home. Its a difficult scene. There is some super dark humour here depending on the person watching.
Wendy becomes restless and begins to obsessively search for other possible alternatives, getting swept away by the calm advertising, forcing her brother to loudly announce in public that they are all the same, that behind all the walls of these places is death and decay. They are all the same, and that is the purpose of them. Meanwhile both of them have almost opposite lives, but they are similar in that they take up both their time, and they can’t give their father the attention his situation needs.
This film isn’t complicated, but it can be depressing I guess. I have watched it happen twice, and it is never a pleasant experience. This film shines a light on a subject that we don’t like to talk about, something many of us try to ignore: the death of loved ones. This is definitely an emotional ride as their father slowly realises where he is and what is happening to him, while the siblings try to come to terms with what they have had to put their father through emotionally, coping in their own ways, results of their vastly different personalities, which clash often. This creates more emotionally heavy conversations and scenes where again, death is openly talked about. It almost seems like a taboo subject, not to be talked about in every day conversation. A conversation about death isn’t idle chit-chat! You cannot have small talk about death. Yet it is a constant, and looms over every person in different ways, from parents aging all the way to pets aging and dying, its there but we shush it. This movie ignores that and it hits really hard as a result.
The films Hoffman has worked on rarely disappoint me, and this is no exception, while Linney most certainly holds her weight opposite. This is a well acted and well written drama, with some dark comedic moments to lighten the tone when talk of death is so prominent. It can be emotionally draining or moving, depending on your perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed it and its realism, and I appreciate the subject of the death of loved ones being talked about in a mature fashion, if not in a way that will make you smile, then feel bad for smiling.
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