With regard to retirement centers and nursing homes, "assisted living" means more than just helping old people eat and get dressed. It means helping them to be happy, too -- really assisting them in living, in other words. This idea isn't explored much in movies (perhaps because films starring senior citizens are rarely blockbusters), but "Assisted Living" does it sweetly, with a dry sense of humor.
Shot cheaply and on location at a real, functioning nursing home by writer/director Elliot Greenebaum, "Assisted Living" is about a 20-something named Todd (Michael Bonsignore), a chronic pothead who passes his days working as a janitor and general go-to guy at an assisted-living center called Meadow View. He is not overtly compassionate toward his elderly charges, but he does care for them in his own way. Sometimes he'll help the more feeble ones make phone calls to "heaven" (really it's him on the other end of the line, speaking from a phone extension in another room), putting them in contact with deceased spouses and children, helping ease their fears about the Great Beyond. ("If you die in heaven, do you go to extra heaven?" one old man asks. Todd's answer, of course, is YES.)
If Hance Purcell (Clint Vaught), the head of Meadow View, is not thrilled with Todd's frequent tardiness and general unreliability, the patients are definitely his fans. One of them, Mrs. Pearlman (Maggie Riley), is beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's and is especially fascinated with Todd. Probably he reminds her of her son Jeremy, whom she says is living in Australia and whom she desperately wants to call on the phone. She clings to Todd, who is uneasy at first but whose secret love for these dear old souls wins out in the end.
Greenebaum often shoots "Assisted Living" like a documentary, putting some "interview" scenes on cheaper-looking video instead of better-looking digital video and letting key characters talk to the camera. Other moments are more cinematic, though, as when he includes ethereally scored montages of daily life at Meadow View: people eating, taking medication, playing bingo, etc.
In all, the movie is a slight one, setting a poignant scene and dramatizing some simple events, but not quite filling out even its comparatively short running time of 75 minutes. Still, I like its wry sense of humor and its compassionate heart.
VIDEO: The picture is non-anamorphic widesceen (1.85:1). Having been shot on digital video, it looks crisp, though not necessarily what you'd call "cinematic." The colors are drab, which suits the film's setting. Still, an anamorphic transfer would have made things just a little nicer.
There are optional English subtitles.
AUDIO: Basic digital stereo. There isn't much music in the film, but when it's used the balance between it and the dialogue is good.
EXTRAS: "Behind the Scenes" is an 8-minute interview with writer/director Elliot Greenebaum, interspersed with some on-set footage and outtakes. Greenebaum succinctly describes this process of making the film, of shooting in a real nursing home, and of using some of the actual residents as characters. Good stuff, as far as it goes.
Also included is a 14-minute Charlie Rose interview, which gives a little more background on Greenebaum's motives, thought process and the way the movie was made. Greenebaum presents himself as a likable, sincere young filmmaker. If anything, this interview makes you like the movie a little better.
Finally, "Todd's World" is 4 1/2 minutes of deleted scenes that focus on Todd's life with his roommates. It was a wise decision to remove them from the final cut. They're somewhat amusing, but they distract from the story's main focus.
Greenebaum says in the bonus features that he wanted to help people see that senior citizens should not be ignored or cast off, either in real life or in the movies. "It's not a perfect film, but maybe it will do some good," he says, and it's easy to be won over by his earnestness. But even putting his motives aside, the film is a reasonably enjoyable, quiet little comedy that is worth checking out.
(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched the film in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)