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The Savages

Stump, Elizabeth

doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000345699.67558.59
Department: Screening Room


(Fox Searchlight, 2007. Directed by Tamara Jenkins. DVD available for rental.)

Meet the Savages, not your average nuclear family-next-door. There's Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a lethargic, detached college theater professor/struggling writer in Buffalo, NY who is unable to commit to his live-in girlfriend. His younger sister, Wendy (Laura Linney), is an anxious and dissatisfied temp worker/struggling playwright in New York City who is having an affair with her married neighbor (Peter Friedman). And there is Lenny (Philip Bosco), their estranged, abusive father who abandoned the kids when they were young. Lenny is now suffering from Parkinson's disease (PD) and dementia.

Wendy and Jon's dysfunctional and self-absorbed lives are disrupted when they learn that Lenny is losing his home in Arizona, putting him in their custody. It's time for the pair to band together and care for a man who once abused them and now can barely remember them.

Some critics have noted that the names of the protagonists recall Wendy and John Darling, two of the children from Peter Pan who are transported to Neverland, a magical land in which they are never forced to age and mature. Although in their 40s, Wendy and Jon Savage also lack mental and emotional maturity—notably, their resistance to intimacy and commitment and their inability to maintain healthy human relationships.

The film primarily focuses on how the two siblings' stunted childhood has affected their development as adults, and suggests their long-delayed needs for acceptance and self-actualization. But there's no clear explanation for the siblings' newfound inspiration and happiness in life at the end; since they don't achieve any closure with their father, it's unclear what prompted the siblings to start growing up.

The film does an admirable job of authentically portraying what happens when an aging parent develops PD and dementia. Wendy and Jon must make difficult decisions about nursing homes and deal with their father's unintentional gaffes in public, and there is often tension between the siblings as each copes with the circumstances differently. The film's fine acting, particularly the superb chemistry between Linney and Hoffman as bickering siblings, propels a bleak, realistic narrative that finishes on a bittersweet yet promising note.

—Elizabeth Stump

Copyright © 2009, AAN Enterprises, Inc.