The Savages at the Dryden

Tamara Jenkins' The Savages played at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) and Ali and I went to see it. They also screened one of her short films from film school, Family Remains. It had a very stylized veneer and told the tale of a mother and daughter who need to confront the death of the divorced husband. It was generally pretty good, but obviously less skillfully made than Jenkins' later work.

The Savages was an excellent film as in its own right. It tells the tale of two siblings, Jon and Wendy, reunited when their father is diagnosed with dementia. They put him in a nursing home near where Jon lives in Buffalo and end up learning a lot about one another's lives in the process.

I was disappointed to that some scenes felt contrived — although Ali disagrees and enjoyed the organic serendipity of it. In one case, it's important for Wendy to meet with Howard, one of the caretakers at the nursing home. She had brought her cat from New York and is allowed to let it stay at the nursing home. I thought it contrived that the cat gets in a fight with another cat at the home, so when Wendy goes to get it, she and Howard end up cornering it under a couch which and end up having a conversation one-on-one.

In all, though, that's a minor fault. One of the best things about the film is that Laura Linney as Wendy and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jon are both excellent leads. To be completely honest, though, the movie is stolen by a perfectly invisible performance by Philip Bosco as their dad, Lenny.

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Make Way for Tomorrow at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Make Way for Tomorrow. Tamara Jenkins gave a brief introduction after Jim Healy — the film was influential when she was writing her own film, The Savages. I liked her breezy, run-on way of talking and identified with "guilty writer syndrome" where rather than writing the script for The Savages, she took a break to see Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story) at a local film house, as it's on many "must-see" lists, particularly for filmmakers.

So upon watching it, she discovered it was based on a film from the 1930's: Make Way for Tomorrow (which, in turn, is based on a play and book). She and her husband sought to find a copy, and after exhausting film and video sources, they turned to eBay where they bought a VHS copy that was recorded on late-night TV, commercials-and-all. Presumably she got to see a private screening during her visit: she quipped that she has greatly enjoyed Rochester even though she's only seen it from the interior of the Dryden Theatre: she spent her time watching movies from the Eastman House archive.

Anyway, Make Way for Tomorrow was the saddest movie I ever saw. It starts out with a family of adult siblings being called to their parents' home. Their father explains that he failed to pay the mortgage and the house is being lost to foreclosure. His kids are relieved to find they have 6 months to vacate, but when they ask, he admits that the 6 months runs out in just a few days. The siblings try to accommodate their parents but all of them also try to maintain their own lives as if there were no disruption.

It's clear that all the parents (Bart and Lucy) want is to be together, but they have no means to do so on their own. Initially they're housed just a few hundred miles away on the East coast so they write letters to one another and rarely call (I guess they didn't have unlimited long distance). The siblings make a ditch effort to house their parents in the much more temperate climate of California with their sister. But when they find she is only willing to take care of Bart, they elect to put Lucy into a nursing home and send Bart alone.

The siblings are welcome their parents' meager request to spend one last day together. They spend it around New York — Bart still trying to find work to make ends meet. In lieu of dining with their children, they visit the hotel where they had their honeymoon and are welcomed by the staff. But alas, Bart's train is to leave and they get to the train station to say goodbye.

Just before Bart boards, he turns back to Lucy and says [pardon my paraphrasing], "and just in case there's a wreck or anything happens and I don't see you again, I just wanted to say that the last 50 years with you have been the best I could ever hope for." Lucy reciprocates — and it's abundantly clear that they will not ever see one another again.

I tried to explain the film to Ali when I got home but I broke down telling her about the last scenes. It's really unbelievable and deserves to be seen by many more people.

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