December 10, 2007 12:00 PM

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco | R |

CRITIC’S CHOICE

DRAMA

A brother and sister, having led separate lives for years, suddenly find themselves jointly responsible for their estranged elderly father, who’s sinking into dementia. This may sound like the bleakest of premises, but The Savages—splendidly acted by a superb cast and subtly written and directed by Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills)—is both darkly funny and warmly compassionate. And always, it’s very, very human.

Jon Savage (Hoffman) is a drama professor in Buffalo, while younger sister Wendy (Linney) is an aspiring novelist in New York City. When they get a call to come pick up their father (Bosco) in a sunny Arizona retirement village after his longtime girlfriend dies, the two must make some difficult decisions fast. As they cope with placing their dad in a nursing home, Jon and Wendy eventually realize it’s time finally to grow up and stop nursing ancient resentments and rivalries.

The movie doesn’t prettify the realities of dealing with a parent no longer able to care for himself. But it does manage to capture the fact that, even when life is at its worst, you can still always laugh. And sometimes laughing is all there is to do, as when the father mistakes his new nursing home for a hotel. It’s sad and funny, both at the same time, just like this marvelous movie.

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