The Savages

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Director: Tamara Jenkins; Release date: Out now

The Savages is a humorous and brutally honest look at the death of a parent as experienced by a highly dysfunctional family. The parent in question is Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco), an angry old man long estranged from his two grown-up children and recently diagnosed with dementia. Called upon to care for him are warring siblings Wendy (Laura Linney, last seen in Jindabyne) and John (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who starred in Capote).

Wendy is an anxiety ridden, 39 year old, aspiring playwright who works as a temp and has a penchant for stealing office stationery. John is a cynical, overweight, middle-aged lecturer who teaches "Theatre of the Absurd" and is trying to finish a book on Brecht. Both are equally hopeless at relationships. She is having an unsatisfying affair with a married neighbour and seems to share more emotional intimacy with his dog.

Seemingly ill prepared for the responsibility of caring for their father, the two lie, evade and argue their way through this crisis yet somehow manage to do what's right and look after him. During the course of it, they develop a genuine bond with Lenny and one another. Consequently, despite their many flaws - or perhaps because of them - the Savages emerge as likeable and very human characters.

This is due in part to the excellent acting by the three main characters and strong supporting performance by well-adjusted male nurse Jimmy (Gbenga Akinnagbe from the acclaimed TV series The Wire), who cares for their father. The acting is enhanced by the refreshing realism of director Tamara Jenkins' screenplay and naturalistic production by Ted Hope and Anne Carey (21 Grams and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

The realism and honesty of the script is cleverly juxtaposed with an often comic use of cinematography. The opening shots depict healthy, happy geriatrics dancing around hedges in Sun City, Arizona, a fantasyland type retirement village. An elderly cabaret act in a cheesy bar sings "You make me feel so young", while Wendy and John discuss putting their father in a nursing home.

The overall effect is an amusing yet poignant portrayal of how two very different siblings come to terms with the fact that their father is dying and in the process begin to get a grip on adult life. An impressive film considering that it is only Jenkins's second directorial feature.