"Assisted Living" chronicles a day in the life of Todd, a janitor who spends his days smoking pot and interacting with the residents for his own entertainment. Todd's detachment from his surroundings is compromised only by his unlikely friendship with Mrs. Pearlman, a resident who begins to confuse him with her son. On this particular day, Todd must choose whether or not to play the part. "Assisted Living" is shot and staged in a real nursing home and gains much of its unique effect and style from the participation of actual residents and staff members. During much of the film, it is impossible to distinguish between what is real and what is fiction. Written by
I saw this movie at a Gen Art screening in New York and loved it. It is basically a first-time work for this director who shows impressive maturity and sensitivity for someone in his late 20's (and impressive organizational ability to pull it off).
The best way to describe it is as a portrait of aging. It is not really judgemental, it is affectionate. Some reviewers thought he was criticizing the nursing home it was set in; I don't. It's not really One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The film's main protagonist (a slacker who smokes weed on the way to work but bonds well with the old people), probably would get fired in real life, and probably nobody but him would get too upset about it. (I have a friend in real life who is a carbon copy of the main character, and in mid-life has settled into a low-paying job as a janitor in a small art museum, where people understand his limitations but accept him for who he is.) So all in all I found the film to be extremely realistic.
What got to me were the frequent closeups of hands, as an old woman attempted to sew or knit or play cards and was having difficulty doing many of the things we take for granted. Really the film is about those quiet little difficulties and what life is like when you're pretty old and almost done. This is very sad and the film brought out the sadness in me. But it is part of life and I think watching this film puts it on the table and makes it easier to accept that people you love do grow old and lose their capacities and eventually die. That's just the way it is!
I complemented the director at the Q&A afterwards. I wanted to buy a copy to show friends and family but they're still trying to get regular distribution. My guess is you might see it on A&E some day but it probably won't get much play other than that and won't make it to video, so I hope they will get around to self-distributing it at some point. (And now that this is out of his system, I'll be curious to see what the second act is for the writer/director, or whether this will be a one-hit wonder for him.)
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