A Darkly Comic Look at Nursing Home Care
Gavin B. | St. Louis MO | 02/27/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Elliot Greenbaum's first film, "Assisted Living" has stirred up a tempest of controversy for it's portrayal of nursing home residents which he filmed using actual nursing home residents in many of the roles and as extras. Greenbaum even shot many of the scenes in Louisville nursing homes, which adds an element of eerie authenticity to the film. It has raised ethical questions about the use of Alzheimer's patients as "actors" in a fictional film. In an Internet campaign, some professional caregivers have suggested that "Assisted Living" as a movie so despicable it deserves to be thrown into a bonfire as the work of a misanthropic film director.
It should added that there are health care professionals who support Greenbaum's point of view and indeed, some of the more socially conscious film festivals like Slam Dance and Woodstock have honored the film. Most importantly the nursing home residents who Greenbaum used as actors had universal praise for the rough cut screening of the film they viewed prior to it's release. Apparently Greenbaum had enough respect for the dignity of his actors to allow them to approve a rough cut of the movie.
Since the residents are stricken with Alzheimer's, many of them appear blissfully unaware of the image they are projecting in the film. One lady has bizarre conversations with a Curious George monkey sock puppet to assist her to be more "assertive." The primary character is "stoner dude" type named Todd (Michael Bonsignore), who works as an aide in the nursing home and engages in telephone pranks played on residents by telling them he's a dead relative "calling from heaven." Health care professionals say that Greenbaum violates the privacy of the residents by filming exploiting their behavior for use in a farce.
The use of actors who are suffering from dementia is a thorny legal issue (just goggle Massachusetts v. Wiseman for more info), and Greenbaum obtained consent forms from both nursing home administrators and the residents. Nursing home professionals have made the claim that people with Alzheimer's disease are not legally competent to give informed consent, because the disease attacks both the cognitive and affective functions of the brain. It's a kind of "they're too crazy to know what they're doing" argument, but one wonders if the nursing home professionals are more concerned about Greenbaum's portrayal of first line caregivers as apathetic, cruel and often impaired by drugs or alcohol.
The primary storyline is about the relationship between Mrs. Pearlman, a resident and Todd. Mrs. Pearlman transfers her affection for her son, long absent and living in Australia to Todd, the nursing aide. Maggie Riley who plays the role of Mrs. Pearlman is an actress and does not have Alzheimer's, but Ms. Riley plays the role so convincingly that she is indistinguishable from the actual residents with Alzheimer's disease. The relationship between Mrs. Pearlman and Todd is both comic and tragic, as any complex relationship between two people with startling contrasts in values and attitudes.
What may some shock critics of "Assisted Living" is that Greenbaum is capable of eliciting conflicting emotions of humor, discomfort, cruelty and empathy in his film. It's often hard to sort out the direction Greenbaum is going with this inspired mess of a film. Greenbaum's conflicting emotions is a mirror of society's discomfort with the aging process and our very real prejudices that contribute to inevitable indignities of being elderly. In a society that worships eternal youth more than God, Greenbaum's film will be a unsettling experience."
Judith Lindenau | Traverse City, MI USA | 02/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Assisted Living" is a grey film--a film without definition, without the comfort of a border between black and white. First, it's a fictionalized documentary, and that shading is important to the meaning the film has for us. Watching it, we'd like some resolution, some plot, some gripping and overwhelming message. But there is none of this. The film slides between a mother's passion and and senile boredom, between love's tragedy and a human comedy, between a drugged haze and a clear reality, and between the hard facts of old age care and the casual fiction of a screen play. And throughout it all are the hands--old, gnarled, veined, like dark birds.
"Assisted Living" is a beautiful film. It's not easy to watch, and it isn't meant to be. It casts an ominous shadow which hangs
over the heart long after the film ends."
Gary A. Staver | Indianapolis | 01/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I didn't think I was going to like this movie when I first started watching it. Personally I think they could have taken the drug use out of this movie and it would have been a much better movie. I am a guy who works in a nursing home. I have for almost 20 years now in different capacities. Other then the drug use I was the main character at one point or another. Still am to a degree despite the fact that I don't do much patient care anymore. This movie really brings out the truth of being a resident in a nursing home or assisted living facility. These residents really are our treasured past. But most of the time they are tossed into nursing homes as if they were useless trash. These people should be respected. The residents that are in nursing homes today are who made this country what it is today. It was on their backs that the United States became the great country it is today. This movie reminded me so much of where I work it was scary. The movie was filmed in a real assisted living /Nursing home. One note if you haven't worked in a facility you probably won't appreciate this movie like I did. My wife didn't really care for it for this reason other then feel depressed after seeing it. It takes a special person to work in this environment every day. I guess I am one of those people."
Great little indie flick
C. Ellison | Broomfield, CO United States | 11/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"see this movie! it's a great debut from a promising film maker"