Nobody Knows and Assisted Living.

Reviews of the latest films.
Feb. 16 2005 7:14 PM

Tender Mercies

Two exceptional new films: Nobody Knows and Assisted Living.

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Somehow, Assisted Living jells. Maggie Riley is astoundingly convincing, and she and Bonsignore's Todd have an unforced chemistry that catches you off guard. In the film's most powerful and sustained sequence, Mrs. Pearlman cheats at bingo and wins an oversized pair of cheap sunglasses. As the other patients protest and the caregiver tries to calm them down, Mrs. Pearlman announces that her son in Australia needs those glasses and that she needs to phone him and tell him to come and get them—and also to get her, because, she weeps, it's a mistake that she's there. She cannot take it anymore. Todd uses various stratagems to console her, but there is no consolation, really. The nurse at the desk has a beautiful little daughter who watches in silence as her mother has to wrestle with the old woman to sedate her. As Todd wheels her off to the "mad ward," you can hear the strains of "Blue Skies" from the piano in rec room: "Never saw the sun shining so bright … "

Assisted Living has a happy ending, of sorts—the same kind of happy ending as the unbearably tragic Nobody Knows: a tiny moment of human interaction, the tenderest mercy in an indifferent universe.

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.

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