Till Death and Dementia do us Part
"The Savages" is a darkly funny movie with moments which make you smile, but it's not a comedy as "The Savages" is more of an unusual and brave drama. I say brave because it deals with the emotional subject of a father dieing and suffering from dementia but not in a gentle, overly comforting sort of way rather more edgy and in doing so finding the dark humour of a situation. That may make it sound rather dark, morbid and weird and whilst it is quirky it isn't dark or morbid just revealing and tender yet humorous and real. It's not that easy to explain as "The Savages" is not mainstream despite having mainstream stars in Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco but it does leave a lasting impression.
After years of living separate lives siblings Wendy (Laura Linney - Man of the Year) and Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman - Mission: Impossible III) find themselves being brought together when they receive a phone call informing them than not only has their father Lenny's girlfriend died but he is suffering from dementia. Despite an almost loathing of each other and their father they feel obliged to take care of him and in doing so not only start to grow from being self centred but also supportive healing years of hurt which has affected their lives from childhood.
"The Savages" on one level is a movie about real life and how the way Lenny's declining health and dementia affects an estranged family. As such it touches on those real life elements such as Lenny initially feeling like a burden to his children, who due to their separate lives and their past feel little for their father. It also touches on the guilt of placing a parent in a nursing home and to be honest much more. As such "The Savages" does cover many of the real life issues surrounding such an emotional subject and doesn't try to embellish them in anyway to make the issues more comforting.
But whilst "The Savages" is about how Wendy and Jon deal with their father Lenny it is also about how they interact and grow. We watch as they go from being quite cold and self centred, wrapped up in their own lives, to sharing, brought together through their father's ill health. It's interesting to watch as there is such naturalness to the way the relationships grow from cold, through to supportive and loving never over egging it to become false and too manufactured.
But what strikes you the most about "The Savages" is that it is quirky, darkly funny as it finds humour in various bleak situations, in many ways like mankind manages to find something to laugh about even when life is going bad. As such the way it finds comedy can be a bit startling as it almost deals with emotional elements in a very raw, almost matter of fact way. But the humour is not just from the emotional elements it is also the quirky presentation such as the way it capitalizes on the regimented almost creepy uniformity of Sun City with its pristine streets against the startling blue sky. It makes you sit up and watch.
There is no doubt that much of the reason why this quirky, darkly amusing drama works is through the brilliant casting and acting. Laura Linney gives an award winning performance as Wendy who not only has her own messed up life of having an affair with an older married man to contend with but also in feeling guilty over her father. The way she brings that guilt to the screen is perfection especially in her sudden need to make her father's last days more comfortable not just for him but to feel better about herself. Alongside Linney is Philip Seymour Hoffman as her brother Jon and again it is a brilliant performance delivering the element of being stand offish, almost doing his duty as a son yet unable to show emotion. It cleverly signals that something in Jon's past has caused him to be almost cold to his father yet Hoffman doesn't over do it, playing it dead straight.
But the really impressive performance comes from Philip Bosco as Lenny because it is frighteningly real. We watch Lenny decline into dementia living more and more in his own world not knowing what is happening around him yet suddenly snapping back into the real world. The scene in the diner where Wendy and Jon try and bring up the subject of what to do if he is in a coma is just brilliant full of bitter rage both at the way they are treating him but also the realisation of his days being short. And that is just one moment where Bosco delivers the shifting personality and the emotion of a man now feeling at times utterly hopeless and confused.
The thing is for me "The Savages" is great, it's brave, it's real, it's quirky and amusing and it is a stark contrast to mainstream cinema. And that is the thing, if you prefer mainstream cinema then "The Savages" will possibly end up a dull and rather strange movie which is far too real. But if you like a change of pace, something different to mainstream cinema then it will be great entertainment.
What this all boils down to is that for me "The Savages" is a great movie which manages to take an emotional subject, treat it in a very real way and as such find the dark humour from it. It is seriously quirky but it finds the right balance as it deals with death, dementia and an estranged family. It also has 3 brilliant performances from Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco who together along with the clever writing make it captivating.