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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this mature, darkly funny drama about an estranged family isn't kid friendly. There's cursing (including "f--k" and "s--t"), an adulterous affair, frank talk about sex and death, smoking, and prescription drug use (pills stolen from a dead person, no less). All of that said, older teens and adults may find much to admire in this thought-provoking story, which approaches a harsh subject -- the impending death of a neglectful parent -- with a gentle-but-honest touch.
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What's the story?
As writer-director Tamara Jenkins pointedly shows in THE SAVAGES, ads for nursing homes usually appeal to adult children suddenly faced with the prospect of having those who took care of them needing care themselves. But what happens when your parent never really did take care of you? When he or she was hardly ever there? That's the premise behind Jenkins' brave, smart, and heartbreaking film about Jon and Wendy Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney), siblings who inherit their neglectful father, Lenny (Philip Bosco), when the woman he lives with in Arizona dies and her kids kick him out. Suffering from dementia, Lenny is unable to live on his own; a "rehabilitation home" -- aka nursing home -- in far-away Buffalo (near Jon's house) is the only real option. Forced to look after him, Jon, a college professor willing to let a woman he loves walk away, and Wendy, a playwright unable to get traction in either her professional or personal life, confront the demons of their childhood and begin the process of extracting wisdom from its wreckage.
Is it any good?
Left in the hands of actors less agile and able than Hoffman and Linney, Jon and Wendy easily could have been reduced to harshly drawn characters; thankfully, they rise to the occasion. Hoffman is aloof yet appealing, while Linney is anxious yet persevering. Bosco, too, communicates volumes without doing too much; asked what to do if he falls into a coma, he quickly moves from indignant to angry to deeply sad, his eyes the only real giveaway.
The Savages' power comes from its determination to skirt the maudlin despite its plainly sad narrative. Intense moments -- as when brother and sister ask their father what he'd like them to do in the event of his death -- are played for both dramatic and comic effect. It's a testament to Jenkins and her actors that the transitions go smoothly. Which makes The Savages a worthwhile (if mature) watch.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why so many movies are about dysfunctional families. What's the appeal of watching characters with messed-up lives and relationships? Families can also discuss what it's like to care for ailing parents. Are the siblings' choices admirable or do they make lots of mistakes?
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