Assisted Living

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 video instead of film 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.

B- (1 hr., 15 min.; R, for pot smoking -- seriously, that's the reason the MPAA gave. Other than that, it's a PG movie..)