Friends threatened bodily harm when I mentioned I was on my way to see The Savages, Tamara Jenkins look at adult children trying to deal with their ailing fathers impending death. Having just survived a similar story myself, they said, was enough. Frankly, I tended to agree with them. And then I saw the movie.
This savage comedy (yes, it is a comedy, and often a very funny one, at that) begins with the incomparable Laura Linney living not so large in New York, scrambling after hours at her temp job to send out applications for artistic grants. When her married lover shows up for a quicky, she misses the message on the answering machine about her estranged father who, it seems, is spreading feces on the wall of the home he shares with his long time girlfriend in Sun City, Arizona. Quickly, we all discover said girl has died, left Dad with no place to live and its up to the kids to fly out and do something.
One of the great distinctions here is that Jenkins has chosen to make the sister the screwup, not the brother, played marvelously by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who, while not totally together, is at least on his way. So often, it is the male who is shown as the immature partner, the one who the smart, take charge woman must put up with. Here, in a refreshing twist, our leading lady is an appealing mess. While much of that is thanks to the savvy writing, when Linney walks into father Philip Boscos hospital room, sees the filling urine bag hanging from the side metal bar, and she reacts like a terrified deer in the headlights, I knew we were into some pretty important territory.
Few movies, especially comedies, have even dared to deal honestly with what so many are dealing with in real life not just the fact that so many adults are now responsible for aged parents, but also the truth that most of us really dont have a clue as to how to do it.
We, products of the me generation, are concerned with our own careers, partners and offspring (here the four pawed kind) and just dont know how to add more to the mix. We also dont get the program, the legalities, the nursing home stuff, the remembering to try and be kind to someone who is in no mood to be kind back.
Linney and Hoffman are absolutely fabulous, both individually and together, as wary siblings learning to actually appreciate one another. In a few short scenes, Bosco shows us why his children, who have kept away so long, are still under his spell. But their work doesnt come as a surprise: after all, these are three of our finest actors. It is the screenplay and unsentimental direction of Jenkins, whom we havent heard from since Slums of Beverly Hills that thrills. With this terrific movie, she shows us that sometimes, growing up can happen in the strangest places.