It’s true that all dysfunctional families are messed up in their own unique way, and the Savages are no exception to the rule. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, as brother and sister, star as the hyper-literate offspring of absentee parents. When their aging, estranged father needs their help, they must care for a parent who rarely cared for them.
Director Tamara Jenkins focuses on the largely unexplored relationship between brothers and sisters, and she does so beautifully, thanks to the extraordinary talents of Hoffman and Linney. Both are unable to complete or commit to their respective projects or relationships, and both, in essence, have their lives on hold. However, the two share the elastic bond of siblings who, after establishing separate lives, instantly slip into their childhood roles when they reunite. Theirs is an unceremonious love born from years of shared experience which creates an intuitive sense of the other and lends familiarity to their actions.
Together they grapple with the responsibility of their father’s care, witness to the humiliation and debasement of a once-capable adult regressing to child-like dependency and the unsettling role reversal of children becoming caretakers of their parents. Though it has its moments of humor, the sheer bleakness of the subject matter taxes the viewer’s emotions, but nevertheless, Jenkins should be commended for training an unblinking eye on an under discussed aspect of family life. Moreover, the interaction between Hoffman and Linney makes following their characters from their winter of hard experience to a spring of renewed hope well worth the while.