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The Savages

The Savages
It's not exactly user-friendly subject matter for movies, but it is something that people deal with every day. A practically unknown filmmaker has crafted an emotionally charged look at the disease of Dementia and its affect on the victim and his loved ones called The Savages that had my stomach tied up in knots and simultaneously fighting tears.

Jon Savage (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater professor trying to get a book published about Bertolt Brecht and dealing with the fact that his Polish girlfriend must return to her homeland. Wendy Savage (Laura Linney), Jon's younger sister, is an unsuccessful playwright trying to get a fellowship from the Guggenheim and having an affair with a married man. Jon and Wendy are forced to put their own lives on hold when they learn their father, Lenny (Phillip Bosco) is slipping into Dementia and they must arrange some kind of permanent care for him.

Director and writer Tamara Jenkins has crafted a compelling and at times tragic story that is not an easy watch, but I got the feeling that Jenkins has gone through this because the film had a very personal feel to it...it seemed important to this filmmaker to tell this story, warts and all, perhaps as a way of helping other people dealing with this when they might have to.

I especially loved the way the story introduced us to the Savages. Lenny is actually living with a woman and when she dies, her family mercilessly throws Lenny out on the street, forcing Jon and Wendy to step up. We then watch Jon and Wendy initially trying to push the responsibility of Dad on each other until they see exactly how the disease has affected dad. This film realistically depicts aspects of dealing with the elderly that we don't talk about and would rather look the other way when they become public. There is a horrific scene where Lenny and Wendy are on a plane and Lenny screams that he has to go to the bathroom right now...absolutely heartbreaking. The scene where Jon and Wendy meet Lenny in a restaurant and ask what they should do if he slips into a coma was equally devastating.

In addition to the story of the Savage siblings dealing with their dad, we get an insightful look into the siblings themselves, who apparently hadn't connected in awhile prior to what happens to Dad. Jon is definitely the realist and though she won't admit it, Jon's opinion means a lot to Wendy and I liked the way that caring for their dad helped to bring some healing to their own relationship, which they weren't even aware was in need of healing.

Jenkins direction is detail-oriented making certain the viewer never forgets the agony of this disease. She works wonders with a very talented cast, all working at the top of their game. Laura Linney's tightly wound Wendy earned her an Oscar nomination and Hoffman was nominated for a Golden Globe for his pragmatic Jon. Phillip Bosco was robbed of an Oscar nomination for the lost soul Lenny...this performance is so precise and frightening that we are never sure if Lenny knows where he is or what he's doing and that's exactly what this disease does. I also have to mention Stephen Trask's extraordinary music that beautifully accentuates this terribly sad and gripping story.