Film-Forward Review: [ASSISTED LIVING]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Michael Bonsignore as Todd
Photo: Economic Projections

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Directed & Written by: Elliot Greenebaum.
Produced by: Alan Oxman, Archie Borders, Elliot Greenebaum & Alex Laskey.
Director of Photography: Marcel Cabrera.
Edited by: Paul Frank & Adriana Pacheco.
Music by: Hub Moore.
Released by: Economic Projections.
Country of Origin: USA. 77 min. Not Rated.
With: Michael Bonsignore & Maggie Riley.

When he's not scraping roadkill off the driveway or pushing wheelchair-bound patients to dinner or bingo, the unshaven Todd (Michael Bonsignore), a janitor at a nursing home, sneaks off to get high. With a slightly condescending smirk, he also gets his kicks by phoning the elderly patients and impersonating a family member calling from heaven. For Mrs. Pearlman (Maggie Riley), he reminds her of her estranged son. In the early stages of Alzheimer's, she's lucid one moment, but mistakes Todd for her son the next. Trying to please this lonely woman (and for his own amusement), Todd places a call to Mrs. Pearlman as her son. The prank backfires terribly.

Assisted Living benefits hugely from filming on location at an actual nursing home with its residents as actors and extras. Shots of daily life add a verisimilitude that acting cannot bring, framing this slender and delicate story like a documentary. As a viewer, you'll know the actors from the inhabitants. However, actors Bonsignore and Riley easily blend in. Filmed when he was 22, director Greenebaum has an assured hand with his cast. With the exception of the blow-hard boss, who keeps a secret stash of booze in his desk, all of the characters are straightforwardly depicted. Working within an apparently low budget (in one scene you can hear the camera), the actors display more finesse than actors in productions with 100 times the budget. With its theme of intergenerational friendship, this quirky tale recalls recent French films like Since Otar Left... and The Girl From Paris. Assisted Living could be described as a small film, but it displays more thought and feeling than that moniker implies. Kent Turner
February 2, 2004



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