Reviewed by Fran Dorf —

Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, The Savages is a nuanced, closely observed film about a middle-aged brother and sister reckoning with their guilt, responsibility, and ambivalent feelings when their long estranged father develops vascular dementia and has to be placed in a nursing home.

Funny and tragic, with amazing performances by the gifted Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings Jon and Wendy, with incredible work by Philip Bosco as their father, Lenny, The Savages lacks a single false moment. It believably conveys complex characters and their tragic situation without trying to imposing false closure or misplaced hope.

The film is particularly notable for its frank depiction of the horrors of dementia and the messiness of grief, which itself springs from the complexity and messiness of human relationships. For all its tragedy, The Savages achieves real moments of grace in the only way grace can be achieved in such situations, in small moments of compassion and discovery, with bruising honesty, comedy, pathos, and irony.  It also makes a wonderful point about the therapeutic and redemptive value of making art.

Fran Dorf’s acclaimed, internationally published novels include A Reasonable Madness (1990/91), Flight (1992/93), and Saving Elijah (2000), which was inspired by the tragic death of Fran’s son, Michael, in 1994. An experienced public speaker and active philanthropist, Fran blogs as THE BRUISED MUSE on life, grief, and everything in between (books, film, art, writing, psychology, culture, human rights, politics, media, poetry, spirituality, etc) at

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Fran Dorf

Fran Dorf, MA, MSW, is a poet, essayist, and author of three acclaimed novels, including Saving Elijah (Putnam), which was inspired by the 1994 death of Fran's son, Michael. Fran blogs on life, grief, culture, arts, etc. at and is currently working on a memoir of survival stories. Fran is also a psychotherapist and conducts “write to heal” workshops to help people cope with grief, loss, illness, and trauma. In 1999, Fran and her husband, Bob, started Jumpstart, an educational program for toddlers with special needs in their small city. Fran appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss “Writing to Heal.” To hear Fran being interviewed on this show, click on the following link:

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