Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jon Savage turns to Laura Linney who plays his sister Wendy. He yells that despite the nice landscaping and various other lovely exteriors, the nursing home she plans to place their old, sick, demented father in is nothing more than a mausoleum, beautiful on the outside but inside a holding cell for the dead, or in this case, the elderly waiting to die. It smells. It's nasty. It's fecal matter wrapped in a pretty bow.
In 2006, a Romanian film called "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," dealt with a sick, old, demented man's last night on Earth. The fictional account takes on a documentary-type feel and look as it follows his illness and slow-dragging decline into obsolescence. The old man is abandoned. He had neither family to care for him nor any proper healthcare.
In the spring of 2007, an independent film titled Away From Her focused on an Alzheimer's patient who was put into a nursing home and who unlike the Alzheimer's patient in Nick Cassavetes' "The Notebook" tries to cope with and accept the fact that she's forgetting and in fact losing her life. At first through memory, morbidity soon follows. However, the nursing home in that film is quite picturesque and serene, which all are and try to be.
THE SAVAGES appears to be a middle ground between those films, and is the first in my recent memory to open a more realistic window into the nursing home situation in this country. Centering on a middle-aged, bickering brother and sister, both of whom are struggling writers in New York, the movie shines a dark, comedic light on the inevitability that many adult children face, and that is having to tend to their doddering parents.
Wendy Savage sees a commercial on TV advertising a nursing home, that in a "Pleasantville" tone, tells her how its nursing facility is perfect for those people who have spent a lifetime caring for their kids, but who are now unable to care for themselves. It looks like a very nice place, compared to the cold, crowded, clinical facility Wendy and Jon have thrown their father, Lenny Savage.
Because of lingering psychological issues she juggles, Wendy can't see the place for what it truly is. Jon points out to her that the commercial, like the nursing home itself, preys on people's guilt. Some people would have taken it upon themselves to bring their waning parent into their own homes, but there are many who can't or who simply choose not to do so. Those people may feel guilty about leaving their sick loved one in some foreign place. Wendy certainly feels guilty. She lies because of it. She lies to her boyfriend, her brother and to various others because she can't speak the awful truth.
That truth is, people can dress it up as pretty as they like. They can put flowers, pillows, sweets, stuffed animals and anything else they please, but it won't change the fact that death is ugly and it's inescapable. Aging is ugly. Unless you live in Hollywood or Miami, a hotspot for plastic surgeons, aging is quite disgusting. For most, it's old people losing their minds, their memory, their hair and sometimes the ability to control their bodily functions.
Sometimes, it's the awkward questions like "In the case of coma, do you want to be hooked up to ventilators?" "Do you want to be buried or cremated?" Sometimes it's putting your life on hold to be bedside to feed, clean and even change the urine bag. It can be both unpleasant and frustrating.
And, sometimes, if not most times, it's what nobody wants to talk about. As a result, when it's finally thrust upon people, as it is Wendy and Jon Savage, they don't know what to do or what to say. They want to do what's right, but, they can be frustrated, anxious and even selfish, so they stumble their way through the situation as anyone would.
This film does an excellent job of exposing that. Linney and Hoffman, both Oscar-winning actors, perform superbly who in spite of no physical resemblance make us believe they could be brother and sister. They have a relatability, sibling rivalry, and love for each other, which come across very clearly. Though I would have liked more background on the father, I believe this piece to be very well-written.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexuality and languageRunning Time: 1hr. and 53 mins.