Laura Linney has come up a lot lately. My voicemail at work sounds like her, she was Mrs. Adams on HBO, played the boss with the bee hive in The Nanny Diaries, and portrays a very convincing Wendy Savage in the indie film: The Savages.
If you’re like me you thought The Savages would be about men in weed skirts smoking a hookah in Papua New Guinea. But The Savages are of a different breed,they are a brother and sister team dealing with an ailing father. And it’s real.
Wendy wears long underwear tops to bed, works out to an 80′s aerobics DVD in her motel room, and does her hair like a little girl even if she’s 34. Brother Jon has his PhD in Theatre of the Absurd and lives like an academic with slovenly clothes, piles of books, and a lot of repressed anger. And that car!
The dialogue is typical repartee between older siblings. Everything from the hilarious, jaded, angry, and annoyed. When Jon first sees Wendy at the airport he embarrassingly admits, “Yeah, I gained some weight.” In the hot parking lot in Phoenix, Jon complains to Wendy that the orthodontist didn’t fix his teeth because he was “pissed off when dad didn’t pay the bills” as Wendy takes off her black tights in public just because she’s hot.
After wrapping up business in Sun City, Jon checks out some nursing homes in Buffalo for their dad.Wendy asks if the place smells and Jon replies, “they all smell.” When the two finally agree on a place to put dad, Wendy arrives at Jon’s house and yells, “it looks like the Unabomber lives here!” Like any good sister, she then snoops around his room, sees some meds and yells, “Zocor? Is this for depression?”
Dad, Lenny, wasn’t there for them, doesn’t deserve their help, and remains a distant dad who cares little for his children. But they have to care. Because when Wendy takes Lenny to the bathroom on the airplane and his pants fall down, a grown man is wearing a diaper in the middle of the aisle. He’s the child. He’s the vulnerable one. And he’s her dad. And suddenly, no one’s keeping score.
The Savages may not be wearing weed skirts but they are savages of sorts. Self-absorbed New Yorkers, they’ve lived their lives in isolation, bitterly ignoring the real issues of their lives and the father who left them behind.
They say that in the Philippines people describe Westerners as “people with gods on their wrists” and The Savages fulfill that description. The gods of time, fame, achievement, and individualism have been knelt to and adored for far too long.
But pain, maturity, and watching their ailing father reminds them of their family ties and what’s important. Hint: it’s not savagery, cruel mistreatment of an old man, or complete rebuttal of who they are and where they came from, no matter the baggage associated with that past.