They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad. They don’t mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had, And add some extra, just for you.
So sayeth the bard Philip Larkin, and he was surely talking about The Savages. Emotionally damaged, self-destructive and increasingly estranged, brother and sister Jon and Wendy Savage receive a call that their senile father has lost his home as well as his fragile mind. They now have to adjust to caring for a man who, if their stories can be gleaned from the snippets of information made available to us, wasn’t a particularly nice human being in the first place, and is even less amenable now he’s smearing his feces on the walls.
The story starts in the perky, up-beat perfection of Sun City, Arizona – which turns out to be a purpose built retirement village swathed in permanent sunshine, complete with golf-carts and cheerleaders and perfect, plastic trees (no, really, it is…..) Reminded me of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One. Only in America. It then moves to the utter misery of Buffalo, New York in winter. I mean, mental health institutions in Buffalo, New York. In winter. Hell.
Yet, in spite of the resoundingly All-American locations and a story-line that could so easily have teetered on the edges of sentimentality, (another writer-director may have cast Sally Field, for instance, which would have been its death knell) The Savages is not at all mawkish. It’s a true-to-life telling and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are painfully good to watch. It’s grim, embarrassing, wince-worthy, and touching, but wait til the end for the fat labrador, and you’ll know that all lives can find a road to redemption.