Dealing with death, dementia, dysfunctional relationships and depression, 'The Savages', thankfully, isn't near as dreary as it sounds.

Laced with gallows humour, writer-director Tamara Jenkins manages to inject just the right amount of jest to counter-balance this poignant tale of role-reversal and the emotional pain involved when a child becomes parent to an ageing mother or father.

When their estranged father Lenny (Bosco) develops dementia in the wake of his girlfriend's death, semi-estranged siblings Wendy (Linney) and Jon (Hoffman) are forced to face up to the responsibility of caring for the father they hardly knew.

In-or-around 40-years-old, both are unequipped to deal with the emotional responsibility of caring for another, not least because their own self-absorbed lives are peppered with various emotional difficulties as they drift through a kind of arrested adolescence. As if to emphasise that they've never really grown up, Jenkins has even named them after characters in 'Peter Pan'.

Their father's illness, however, serves to hurl the siblings together, bringing their inherent competitiveness to the fore, which in turn brings about a period of personal reflection.

As failed playwright Wendy, Linney delivers an exemplary performance fully deserving of her recent Oscar nomination. Etched across her face are the signs of optimism and hope, slowly being eroded by loneliness and desperation.

In a long-term relationship with a married man (Friedman), her life seems to journey from one unfulfilled moment to another as Linney wonderfully captures a slow middle-aged death within her character.

Indeed, the film could be said to have greater resonance as a work about middle-age than that of old-age, with Hoffman's Jon also stunted by commitment issues in his life - be they work or personal related.

As ever, Hoffman too delivers a near flawless performance and his brother/ sister relationship with Linney is wholly believable - a credit to both the central pairings acting abilities as well as Jenkins' sharp script.

Though 'The Savages' may irritate some - in that it cuts close to the bone in terms of its subject matter – Jenkins' film is nonetheless hugely interesting and very watchable thanks to its dry wit and free-flowing humour. What could have remained depressingly grim or worse, mawkish, is instead turned around to make for a bittersweet tale of complex family relations, which we can all relate to.

Steve Cummins