Reality versus Soap Opera

August 8, 2013

Assisted Living is an engaging film—part fiction, part documentary—that takes us into the nitty-gritty of life in a long-term care facility in the United States. The film is unusually rich and perceptive in its portrayal of images and themes associated with aging in an institutional setting. It is the creation of a 22-year-old film student. It started out as a short documentary film about life in a long-term care facility, but as the student, Elliot Greenbaum, reflected on his own reactions to what he was seeing and experiencing in the facility, he decided to expand the work into a “partially fiction” feature-length movie. The result is a film that cleverly blurs the line between reality and fiction.

To create the framework and atmosphere of the film, Greenbaum uses short snippets of sounds and images from a real-life nursing home and skillfully weaves them together to present a rich tapestry of daily life in a long-term care facility. Then, with the use of five actors, he adds a fictional story line that runs through this layer of reality footage. The main character in this story line is Todd (Michael Bonsignore), a somewhat undependable 20-something, who works in the facility as a janitor and all-around helper in caring for the needs of the residents. He often arrives late to work, and he is relaxed with the residents in a fun-loving and jaunty way that is at times naïve and insensitive. In one extended scene, for example, he has a series of residents come to the telephone at the nurses’ station and then ducks unseen into another room to talk to them as one of their relatives “calling from heaven.” The resulting scenes, which Greenbaum staged with actual residents, are extremely funny as Todd answers several questions from them about what life is like in “heaven.”

Read full review in The Gerontologist