Quite a controversy has arisen over Elliot Greenebaum’s film. A blend of documentary and fiction, it was filmed with real residents in a Louisville retirement center playing themselves. Actor Michael Bonsignore plays Todd, a slacker supposedly working as an orderly in the home. He spends far too much time getting stoned on his weeds, so the supervisor, who seems to spend most of his time on the telephone trying to deal with his dysfunctional family, terminates him. On his last day Todd pretends to be God speaking to various residents on the phone and connecting the elderly Mrs. Pearlman (Maggie Riley) with her son, whom in her delusion she thinks is living in Australia. Mrs. Pearlman is in the beginning stage of Alzheimer’s disease and has long been estranged from her son. Todd pretends to be the son, giving her a few moments of joy when she believes that he has at last come to take her to the land down-under.
The controversy has been over Greenbaum’s use, or misuse, of the patients and the setting. Is he poking cruel fun at the expense of the residents, most of whom were not fully aware of what he was doing? Or is this some variation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with Todd being an updating of Casey? It might be that Todd’s stoned condition argues against this. Shot on a shoestring budget, Assisted Living, with its languid style, offers nothing for the action movie fan, but it could raise some questions about our culture and its attitude toward and treatment of the elderly.