It’s not often you see a movie about families that can be grim and entertaining at the same time, but a select few do just that.
Allow me to introduce The Savages.
Wendy Savage (Laura Linney, Man of the Year) is a middle-aged woman whose playwriting dreams and relations with a married man are interrupted when her elderly father needs to be moved from his caretakers’ residence. Desperate for help, she calls her big brother, Jon Savage (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Mission: Impossible III), who is a college professor struggling with writing his book and keeping his girlfriend. Jon and Wendy decide to put their mentally declining father in a nursing home, and they must find a way to care for their father as they also find a way to care for their individual lives and each other.
The Savages is a movie filled with contrasts. There are bright skies and lush green trees in one scene paired with gray snow and graveyards in the next. The light humor is carefully mixed with the melancholy. Everything is delivered wonderfully by Hoffman and Linney, the latter in an Oscar-nominated performance.
What makes this film special is that it spares you any typical sentimental hogwash. The comedy isn’t full of side-splitting one-liners, and the drama isn’t gut-wrenchingly tragic. There’s no attempt to "win you over"; the film is sincere, and it feels that way, too.
However, audiences may be put off by the slow plot. The movie is very character-driven, and we have to put up with the instability and quirks of the Savages before we can like them (almost like any other family relationship). While this may frustrate some, those who can be patient may be rewarded, if they, like Jon and Wendy, see it all through to the bittersweet ending.
The film addresses how to care for aging parents in a society that sometimes perpetuates a denial glittered with hauntingly picturesque rest homes and Hallmark cards in an effort to cover up the truth: that someone we love is dying. If the picture that The Savages paints is accurate, then one day we’ll have to deal with the signed forms, the hospital visits, the nursing homes and the restless countdown that comes with it all. And as college students, we may dread it right now. But perhaps, like Jon and Wendy, there will be some personal growth, maybe even humor, in store when that part of life arrives.
If you’re looking for a gimmicky comedy with a half-baked plot, there are plenty of those currently out. But if you’re looking for a film that’s as believably heartfelt as it is humorous, then stop by the Broadway Theater and have a seat with The Savages.