Film Highlight: The Savages

Tough, tender, and heroically vulgar, Tamara Jenkins's black comedy plumbs the depths of our cluelessness about dealing with senile parents, then jacks up the anxiety quotient by asking what it's like to care for a demented father who never cared for you. If you saw Jenkins's 1998 cult hit comedy, Slums of Beverly Hills, you won't be expecting serene self-sacrifice from Wendy and Jon Savage (Laura Linney in ringlets and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a big gut), middle-aged loser siblings whose relationships with each other and their fast-fading dad, Lenny (the excellent Philip Bosco), strain the very definition of family. Less antic and more tonally nuanced than Slums, The Savages still serves a fat helping of the grotesque, but the movie also comes with the wistful sadness of a maturing filmmaker who understands that, in matters of death, sorrow and black comedy walk hand in hand. No sentimentalist, Jenkins refuses to patronize her benighted losers or her audience with 11th-hour apologies or blinding insights. Yet the movie is dotted with moments of grace and whacked-out humor that add weight to its climax, a hesitant growing up that feels less like a sop to distributors wary of the bummer ending than a goofy act of mercy by a director who has moved on from the simple desire to shock.


 
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