Assisted Living | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Assisted Living

The Old Folks at Home

Todd, a feckless young man who can find time in the morning for a little wake-and-bake but not a shave, works as a gofer at an assisted-living facility. After showing up late, he mops, helps to wheel residents to bingo, plays with a nurse's young daughter, smokes some more pot and halfheartedly entertains some oldsters by pretending to be calling from heaven ("you can be fat here, if you want").


Elliot Greenebaum's debut feature, Assisted Living, is a very loose amble through Todd's one day at work, intercut with mockumentary footage of Todd's co-workers being interviewed at some point later (it becomes clear that this day is Todd's last day on the job). It's a device that initially proves a bit confusing, and ultimately, doesn't reveal much about Todd: He is an unmotivated soul, a probably nice guy who's too lazy to give a shit.


However, one elderly woman, Mrs. Pearlman (Maggie Riley), who we learn is slipping into the dementia of Alzheimer's, fixates on Todd (Michael Bonsignore), confusing him with her neglectful son. Todd, touched by her obvious pain, is inspired to help, but chooses an ill-advised act. What amounts to this slim story's conclusion is a tiny gleam of understanding between the pair.


Greenebaum shot his film on location in Louisville, Ky., in three nursing homes, incorporating residents and staff as extras. Ironically this intentional versimilitude lends the film a rather unreal air, as Greenebaum's camera snakes slowly down tidy fluorescent-lit corridors -- decorated to resemble a mid-price hotel chain -- populated only by people in various states of compromised mobility.


And in actual terms, it is otherworldly. The disconnected residents of the home are bound only by their shared infirmities, entirely isolated from the outside -- and in a place that might be unfamiliar to many of us. Greenebaum's camera doesn't exploit, but it's hard to find nobility in documentary-like footage of drooling seniors propped up before chattering television sets or the enforced cheeriness of an empowerment-training session for people who will never again deal with the outside world. One is reminded of a well-padded holding pen -- the last stop between here and the great unknown.


Despite hints at serious topics -- society's warehousing of its elderly, our own fears of aging and abandonment, the difficult bridge between the young and the very old -- Greenebaum's film, clocking in at only 77 minutes, seems, like Todd, to want only to float by these issues rather than explore them. As such his film is vaguely dreamlike, more a meditation than a treatise, and with fewer tangible rewards.

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