The Savages is a 2007 black comedy set on the East Coast of the USA. It stars Laura Linney, the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco and was directed by Tamara Jenkins. Linney and Seymour Hoffman play brother and sister Jon and Wendy Savage. It’s fair to say, they’re both already struggling a little when they receive a call to tell them their father, Lenny, who’s living with his girlfriend in Florida has developed dementia. When the girlfriend passes away, Jon and Wendy suddenly become carers for their dad. They are not particularly close to their father. Neither has happy childhood memories from the period after their mother abandoned them. Caring doesn’t come naturally, but they’re determined to help their dad as much as they can.
Jon finds a place for Lenny in a residential care facility close to his home in Buffalo. There’s a heart-breaking scene where Wendy accompanies a confused and increasingly distressed Lenny through the airport and on to the plane as he relocates to the East Coast. Much is made of the fact that he doesn’t even own a winter coat. The Savages chooses to fix its gaze on Lenny’s children, rather than his experience of dementia and residential care. However, there are a number of truly poignant scenes where Lenny reacts to a memory test and is asked to help plan his own funeral arrangements which I found uncomfortable viewing though very recognisable. The film’s main focus seems to be an in-depth exploration of what it feels like to find yourself suddenly a carer for a parent who’s developed dementia.
Seymour Hoffman and Linney are fantastic, as you can imagine, playing a pair of dysfunctional creatives who were already struggling to embrace adulthood and are now navigating an increasingly complex set of responsibilities. There’s not much comedy in this black comedy and it is, at time, a difficult watch. However, I found it incredibly honest and it raises some very important questions about the nature of duty when it comes to care. I also found a few moments where Jenkins allows hope to bubble to the surface and in the last ten minutes of the movie there’s reason to believe the Savage siblings have been positively changed by their experience as carers. I’d recommend this film. It’s so well-written and perfectly acted. It left me with a lot to think about.
The Savages was directed by Tamara Jenkins and released in the UK in 2008