Fun in Nursing Homes 

The Savages' Family Dysfunction

The Savages speaks directly and perceptively to a question that will only echo louder for each subsequent generation: What do you do with your parents when they can no longer care for themselves? And the issue is exacerbated when—as in the case of writer/director Tamara Jenkins' somber new film The Savages—you're asked to take better care of your parents than they ever took of you.

Siblings Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) are quietly unhappy adults whose dysfunctionality is traceable to their disturbed childhood, thanks to an absent mother and abusive father (Philip Bosco). As their father's health declines, Wendy and Jon—despite years of estrangement from the volatile old man—relocate him to a nursing home near Jon's house.

The decision to put their father in a home doesn't come easy: Wendy is high strung and prone to self-dramatize, and her reluctance to consign her father to a nursing home has far more to do with her own guilt than any genuine affection for the man. Jon, meanwhile, maintains a gruff façade in the face of his father's dementia—except when he occasionally, surprisingly, gives way to tears. Linney and Hoffman are excellent here, their well-drawn characters struggling to cope with the loss of a man for whom their feelings are ambiguous at best.

The Savages is bleak (though not without a certain dry humor), but it will likely resonate strongly with the boomer crowd, who are starting to deal with these issues themselves. The film's impact is somewhat diminished by a tacked-on, redemptive ending (which will also probably resonate strongly with the boomer crowd), but there are enough small, powerful insights here to forgive a little happily-ever-after.

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