Assisted Living

"Very Good"

Assisted Living Review


It's often said that there's no such thing as an original idea anymore. It's even more difficult to describe a film without calling it a cross between two others that have gained recognition so that it will be easier to sell to an audience. If you look at the amount of sequels or new renditions of classics being pushed through theaters, it's easy to stay stuck in the mentality that nothing could possibly surprise you.

And that's where Elliot Greenebaum's Assisted Living comes in, gently releasing you from the theater with renewed hope that not all voices out there are alike. A difficult film to encapsulate as it doesn't have a clear-cut genre definition, Assisted Living follows a workday for helper Todd (Michael Bonsignore) as he interacts with elderly residents and staff in a living-assisted home. One resident in particular, Mrs. Pearlman, (Maggie Riley) increasingly treats Todd like a son to replace the one who has forgotten her, accidentally detracting him from his routine of smoking marijuana and playfully slacking from responsibilities.

But before you can dismiss this as another film about an old person teaching a younger one how to care, the leads are written without an effort to make them mainstream. Todd isn't your normal, stereotypical slacker. When he makes calls from heaven to the front desk for the residents, it's an intriguing combination of exerting care without directly dealing with them, as well as breaking from the boring necessities of mopping and Bingo. Mrs. Pearlman is also not the overly-used old lady with attitude that sticks out from the crowd, but a quiet, intelligent woman who is coming to grips with her fading mental health.

Not only should writer/director Greenebaum be commended for exploring an unpopular topic, aged people living in a boring, controlled environment, but also for handling tough issues such as loneliness and escapism without getting heavy handed, melodramatic, or pedantic. There is a simple, enjoyable interaction between Mrs. Pearlman and Todd that never ventures into saccharine territory. Sentiment is only slightly expressed through well-timed silences and looks that battle between concern and staying away from involvement.

To create a more interesting feel, Assisted Living is portrayed as a documentary of sorts, with staff members commenting on Todd's departure from the facility. It becomes a sly mixture of watching non-actor residents in their natural surroundings and adding a fictional backbone that's sweet to watch. Much of the film is shot watching people singularly, keeping you focused on each individual in a real time existence. It would feel crude or unimaginative if it didn't also provide a quiet means to solidly connect with Mrs. Pearlman's slipping memory as she attaches more to Todd, and to Todd's maturing sense of helping Mrs. Pearlman's comfort.

Though the basic storytelling of these two unusual characters is strong, and the documentary feel maintains a gently provocative reaction, the on camera interviews lean towards repetitive. The voiceover narration of the resident chaplain on death and the afterlife seems shoved in out of nowhere and distracts from the pleasant simplicity of the film.

But for a respectable 78 minutes, Assisted Living manages to ponder the various ways we transcend pain and loneliness without becoming authoritative about how cruel life can be. It generously appreciates the very human conditions of its characters and culminates in a unique story worthy of attention.

Running the table.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 78 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 1st February 2003

Box Office Worldwide: 41

Budget: 500

Distributed by: Economic Projections

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Todd, as Mrs. Pearlman, as Nancy Jo, as Malerie Skelley, as Hance Purcell, as Kathy Hogan, Jose Albovias as Jose

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