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BillAndrewOutside.pngAssisted living sounds like a rational, caring way to tend to our old folks while giving them their independence. I won’t hear the phrase the same way after watching “Andrew Jenks, Room 335,” a new documentary that debuted on HBO Tuesday night (click here for the remaining airings). Jenks, a 19-year-old from suburban Westchester County, New York convinced an assisted living facility in Florida to let him film his month-long stay in Room 335, living alongside the ruefully charming residents as they take their hallway constitutionals, cry “Bingo,” and make a fuss over this handsome Christian boy in cargo pants and his video crew. Asked if they have advice for the newest inmate, the oldsters uniformly answer, “Move out while you can.”


Jenks didn’t set out to make a movie about the sadness and lapses in care at this or any assisted living facility; used to living amid the antics of a college dorm, he wanted to record the wisdom and experience he could glean from a similar stay in a dorm for elders. Nor is that the takeaway of the 87 minutes, which introduces some unforgettably funny and indomitable people. But what Jenks caught on film is conversations about where these people would or could rather be—and how disgracefully we ignore the sum of our old people’s lives, to our own impoverishment and their suffering. Watch it with your kids and maybe they’ll let you get old and in their way.

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