AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Savages
Director: Tamara Jenkins (Dir)
Release Date:   2007
Duration (in mins):  113-114
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Cast: Laura Linney  (Wendy Savage)
  Philip Seymour Hoffman  (Jon Savage)
  Philip Bosco  (Lenny Savage)
 

Summary: In the desert retirement community of Sun City, Arizona, elderly Lenny Savage is eating breakfast when Eduardo, the home health worker who is caring for Lenny’s elderly, live-in girl friend, Doris Metzger, reprimands him for not having flushed the toilet. When Eduardo takes his cereal away and insists that he clean up after himself, the disgruntled Lenny goes into bathroom and writes “prick” on the wall with his own excrement. In New York, Lenny’s thirty-nine-year-old daughter Wendy uses her time at a temporary office job to apply for a Guggenheim fellowship to complete her “subversive, semiautobiographical” play about a brother and sister who grow up with an abusive father after their depressed mother abandons the family. When Wendy returns to her East Village apartment, she is visited by her married neighbor, Larry, with whom she is having an affair. Before going to bed with Larry, Wendy impulsively lies and tells him that she has just found out that her Pap smear results were not normal. After Larry leaves, Wendy notices her answering machine light blinking, and after listening to the message from Nancy Lachman, Doris’s daughter, saying that Lenny is having problems, Wendy phones her forty-three-year-old brother Jon in Buffalo. Jon is not overly concerned, but the siblings agree to go to Sun City to see their father. The following day, Doris is getting a manicure when she suddenly dies. Later, Wendy and Jon meet at the Phoenix airport. Jon is a college theater professor who has been working for a long time on a book about Bertolt Brecht. Jon says that Kasia, his girl friend of three years, has to move back to Poland because her visa has expired, and Wendy is surprised that Jon will not marry Kasia so she can stay in the country. When the siblings arrive at Doris’s suburban home, Nancy and her husband Bill inform them that Lenny has been moved to a hospital, adding that Jon and Wendy will have to find somewhere else for their father to live. Bill explains that the house belonged to Doris, and although she and Lenny had lived together for 20 years, they had signed an agreement to keep their property separate. Jon and Wendy go to the hospital, where they find Lenny restrained in bed. He is confused and belligerent, and the doctor explains that Lenny has dementia. After Jon leaves for Buffalo to make arrangements for Lenny's care, Wendy goes to Doris’s house, which is already on the market, and sorts through her father’s possessions, helping herself to a bottle of painkillers that had belonged to Doris. Later, Jon calls Wendy from Buffalo and says he has found a nursing home there that can take Lenny. Wendy checks the bewildered Lenny out of the hospital, and they board a plane to New York. In the middle of the flight, Lenny loudly announces that he has to go to the bathroom. As Wendy is leading Lenny down the aisle, his pants fall down, revealing his swollen ankles and baggy diapers. Jon picks them up at the airport and they drive silently to the nursing home, where a compassionate Jamaican nurse takes Lenny to his room and introduces him to his roommate. As they leave the nursing home, Wendy cries because Lenny does not know where he is, and says that she and Jon are horrible people. Jon points out that he and Wendy are taking better care of their father than he ever took of them. As she settles in for the night on Jon’s couch, Wendy peruses some nursing home brochures she found in Jon’s room earlier and finds one she believes would be better. In the morning, as Lenny indifferently participates in a group exercise class, Wendy and Jon meet with the nursing home administrator and are taken aback when asked about their father’s wishes regarding life-saving measures and funeral arrangements. They take Lenny out to a diner to discuss these matters, and Lenny, who thought he was staying in a hotel, is stunned to learn that he is in a nursing home. They return to Jon’s home and Wendy talks with Kasia, who accepts her imminent departure with wry resignation. The following morning, Jon cries while eating the breakfast Kasia has cooked for him, then drives her to the airport. Wendy’s forwarded mail arrives, and she tells a surprised Jon that she has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to work on her play. Later, Jon and Wendy go to a support group for people with family members who suffer from dementia. The counselor suggests engaging elderly relatives by sharing mementos from their past, such as old movies. The siblings host a movie night at the nursing home, where they screen The Jazz Singer . Lenny watches the film attentively, but thinks some of the characters are his parents and yells at the father for smacking him around as a child. The evening ends awkwardly when the scene of Al Jolson applying blackface offends the mostly black nursing home staff and some of the guests. The next day, at Wendy’s insistence, they take Lenny to Greenhill Manor, the high-end assisted-living facility whose brochure impressed her, for a preadmission interview. Lenny does his best to conceal his disorientation, but he cannot answer the interviewer’s questions. With no hope of moving Lenny to another facility, Wendy proceeds to redecorate his room at the nursing home, brightening it up with throw pillows and a lava lamp. The following week, Larry comes to Buffalo to deliver Wendy’s cat, Genghis. They spend the day together, visiting Niagara Falls and taking Larry’s dog, Marley, to the park. They end up in a motel, where Wendy accuses Larry of having a mid-life crisis. Larry replies that Wendy is betraying herself by forsaking real intimacy for an affair with a married man, and she furiously walks out on him. Wendy is still in a bad mood when she brings Genghis to stay with Lenny at the home, and she is comforted by Jimmy, a sweet-natured Nigerian orderly. They sit in his van to share a cigarette and talk, and Jimmy asks to read one of Wendy’s plays. Later, Jon tells Wendy that the Guggenheim Foundation announced the names of its fellowship recipients, and her name was not on the list. He says he then called the foundation and learned that Wendy has been rejected eight times. Wendy, who lied about the grant because Jon has been dismissive of her work, reluctantly admits that she has collected disaster assistance benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the grounds that temp work was not available after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jon reproaches her for taking the money, and the siblings argue angrily. Late one night, Jon gets a call saying that Genghis got into a fight with the resident nursing home cat. Wendy goes to collect her cat and visits with Jimmy, who tells her that he liked her play but found it sad. Wendy impulsively kisses Jimmy, but he gently tells her that he has a girl friend. Later, Lenny’s condition declines, and Jon and Wendy keep vigil at his bedside until he quietly passes away. The siblings return to Jon’s home and pass the night in wordless sorrow. The next day, Wendy takes the bus back to the East Village. Larry comes by with flowers and sadly tells Wendy that his beloved Marley is scheduled to be put down the following day, explaining that fixing the dog’s bad hips would require surgery and a difficult recovery period. Wendy tearfully embraces Larry but does not go to bed with him. As Larry is walking away, Wendy calls after him and says she wants to ask him a question. Six months later, Wendy’s play is in rehearsal at an Off-Broadway theater, and she watches a scene in which a little boy, whose father is beating him, floats above the room. Jon, who is also watching the rehearsal, is greatly moved. Outside the theater, Jon tells Wendy he is about to leave for Poland to deliver a paper on Brecht and will meet up with Kasia while he is there. Later, Wendy goes running by the river, accompanied by a happy, recovering Marley, whose back legs are in a brace with wheels. 

Distribution Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production Company: This Is That
Ad Hominem Enterprises
Cooper's Town Productions
Lone Star Film Group
Director: Tamara Jenkins (Dir)
  Chip Signore (1st asst dir)
  Jesse Nye (2d asst dir)
  Alfonso Trinidad (2d asst dir)
  Christopher Carroll (2d asst dir, Buffalo unit)
  Nicholas Bell (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Ted Hope (Prod)
  Anne Carey (Prod)
  Erica Westheimer (Prod)
  Alexander Payne (Exec prod)
  Jim Taylor (Exec prod)
  Jim Burke (Exec prod)
  Anthony Bregman (Exec prod)
  Fred Westheimer (Exec prod)
  Lori Keith Douglas (Co-prod)
Writer: Tamara Jenkins (Wrt)

Subject Major: Aged persons
  Brothers and sisters
  Family relationships
  Maturation
  Nursing homes
  Senility
 
Subject Minor: Africans
  Arizona
  Buffalo (NY)
  Cats
  Death and dying
  Dogs
  Grief
  Infidelity
  The Jazz Singer (Motion picture)
  Loneliness
  Memory
  New York City--Greenwich Village
  Orderlies (Hospital)
  Playwrights
  Poles
  Professors

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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