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by Jean Bethke Elshtain
Are The Savages, brother and sister, really that savage? Wonderfully played by Laura Linney (who received an Academy Award nomination) and the inimitable Philip Seymour Hoffman (an Academy Award-winner two years ago for his uncanny embodiment of Truman Capote), Wendy and Jon Savage are alienated from their gruff and abusive father, Leonard, played by the superb Philip Bosco. The film opens on scenes from one of those awful retirement communities in the Sun Belt, age-segregated and devoted to rather peculiar activities designed to keep retirees young at heart. We see a group of women, heavily made-up, the youngest of whom is likely 70, attired in flouncy mini-skirts, tap-dancing to some oldie but goodie. We enter the interior of one of the units, where a Home Health Care Professional named Eduardo is chastising an elderly man then munching a bowl of Wheat Chex. The elderly muncher, Leonard Savage, has failed to flush the toilet. Eduardo is incensed. "I'm not paid to take care of your shit," he announces, ordering Lenny to flush the toilet and snagging his bowl of cereal, promising to return it once the deed is done. "I'm not responsible for you, only Doris," Eduardo proclaims for good measure.
Eduardo proceeds to turn his attention to Doris, Lenny's elderly female companion, fawning over her and dolling her up as if she were a 16-year-old being readied for a date. When Lenny fails to reappear and/or respond to calls from outside the bathroom, Eduardo bursts in to find him smearing a nasty five-letter word on the bathroom wall, using his own fecal matter as fingerpaint. A call goes out to Leonard's daughter.
We have learned a few things about Wendy, a temp worker and playwright wannabe. We know she has submitted applications for fellowships and grants to fund her "subversive autobiographical" play, Wake Me When It's Over. In the play, two children, a brother and a sister, are abandoned by an abusive father. Then their mother goes out on a date, never to return. The children ...