- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

“Assisted Living,” exclusively at the Landmark E Street Cinema, is a precarious example of the independent first feature.

Launched on the festival circuit in 2003, it needed to be rescued from limbo when the original distributor went out of business.

The principal location is an authentic nursing and retirement institution, the Masonic Home in Louisville, Ky.; the staff and many residents serve as extras while a fictional plot unfolds tentatively in the foreground.

Writer-director Elliot Greenebaum attempts to formulate an ingratiating bond between mismatched outcasts. Michael Bonsignore as a feckless young custodian, Todd, is a candidate for redemption, provided he can transcend sloth and pot addiction by emerging as a boon companion to an elderly widow, Maggie Riley’s Mrs. Pearlman, who appears to be in the early stages of memory loss. She confuses Todd with a son whom she places in Australia while watching a TV travel documentary that triggers a crisis of maternal longing.

Mr. Greenebaum tries to fabricate a sense of urgency by indicating that Todd is reporting for his last day on the job. Although far from a model employee, he possesses a fanciful streak that has modest humorous payoffs.

Mr. Bonsignore looks enough like Will Ferrell to create a receptive climate for gags such as Todd’s phone hoaxes. For example, he tries to intervene helpfully by impersonating God in the act of making a benevolent call to a Masonic resident.

He hopes to calm Mrs. Pearlman by impersonating her phantom son on the long-distance line. This gesture compels him to choose between running from a sense of obligation to his dupe or accepting the responsibility to protect her frailness and credulity in days to come.

During a promotional visit to Washington, Mr. Greenebaum spoke of the movie as an effort to interweave the fictional with the actual. In part he seemed to be motivated by a desire to contradict teachers at the New York University film school, who emphasized story, story, story. While he lacks the skill or experience needed for a seamless blend of documentary observation and fictional dramatization, the method is scarcely invalidated by his amateurism.

The 77-minute running time betrays a lack of scripted material adequate for feature length. The director isn’t prepared to take advantage of the rapport that his principal actors demonstrate.

When the movie becomes preoccupied with excursions around the wards, you’re reminded that the stock of dramatic or comic invention in “Assisted Living” runs low.

At the same time, you tend to question the judgment of both the staff and the filmmaker for permitting recurrent images of residents lingering in advanced states of infirmity or senility. These become a form of intrusive “padding” that doesn’t flatter the project in the slightest. You can’t help but reflect that several of these helpless camera subjects must have died while “Assisted Living” itself was struggling to get into release.

**

TITLE: “Assisted Living”

RATING: No MPAA Rating (adult subject matter, revolving around geriatric patients; fleeting profanity and simulated drug use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Elliot Greenebaum. Cinematography by Marcel Cabrera. Production design by Connie Comprone. Music by Hub Moore.

RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes

WEB SITE: https://assistedlivingthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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