The Savages deals with the death with a parent without being “maudlin” and overly sentimental. This movie hits all of the right notes.
Though it’s not possible to make a feel-good movie about death — at least one that’s in good taste — The Savages comes awfully close to that paradoxical equation thanks to director-writer Tamara Jenkins’s uncanny talent for finding just the right antidote to maudlin sentimentality.
It’s called divine comedy, and though it was originally conceived by 14th century Italian poet Dante as a means of exploring the human condition in a populist way, Jenkins finds success through similar channels as she chronicles the angst, depression and fear surrounding the mental and physical disintegration of an aging parent.
Without pandering to cheap yuks or preying upon easily understood and sappy universal truths about love and meaning, Jenkins pushes us into the chapter of life we’ve all learned to dread since childhood: Watching our parents die.
When we meet Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman), they’re happily lost in their own personal dramas. For Wendy, elusive happiness lies in the idea of writing plays with the support of the Guggenheim Foundation and leaving her job as an office temp behind.
For Jon, survival and sanity take precedence over happiness, because the 40-something college professor just waved goodbye to his girlfriend for no good reason at all — except a profound fear of commitment.
Though knee-deep in their own sagas, the two siblings find themselves in a whole new hot tub when they get news of their father’s medical condition. A recent widower who just lost his meal ticket, Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) is now a man in need of a home and full-time care.
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