Friday, June 14, 2013

Movies Set in Nursing Homes

Photo by North Dakota National Guard. 
Most movies focus on the characters. Sometimes, however, the setting exerts considerable influence.

The setting looms large for many movies filmed in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or even active living retirement communities.

Often the conflict for movies with such settings stems from an environment populated primarily with people in late adulthood.

Below find a sampling of such movies, which mainly feature films but two documentaries as well.

Alive Inside (2014). This documentary shows people with dementia responding well to music. While some are still living at home with family members, many are living in nursing homes.  Dan Cohen works with staff to help residents receive playlists on an MP3 as a way to connect them to the world.  

Next Year Jerusalem (2013).  This documentary was filmed partly in the Jewish Home for the Elderly located in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It follows 8 residents who are preparing to travel to Jerusalem.  The are ages 82, 87, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, and 97.  Part of the documentary is filmed during their travels.  Their caregivers are quite worried about them, but they prove to be resilient.

Before You Know It (2013). Three older gay men discuss their age-based challenges.  One participant in the documentary, Dennis, travels out of state to live in a retirement community for gay men where he can more freely express his sexual orientation and participate in cross dressing. 

Quartet (2012). Maggie Smith plays a mature opera singer newly arrived at a retirement home for musicians. Her arrival causes both excitement and consternation for those who have been in opera productions and romantic relationships with her decades prior.
Wrinkles (2012).  Martin Sheen voices the character Emilio, who is struggling to adjust to his advancing Alzheimer's after moving into a multi-level care facility.  He and the other residents face a host of challenges, chief among them, maintaining their autonomy.  George Coe voices Miguel, who shows Emilio a variety of ways to buck the system. 

All Together (2011). This is a French-language film, but it stars two American film veterans, Jane Fonda and Geraldine Chaplin. These characters--along with their husbands and a confirmed-bachelor friend--decide to live communally in an effort to help each other with some age-related challenges.  They hit a few road bumps along the way.

Play the Game (2008). Andy Griffin plays a widow who is trying to adjust to life in a retirement community.  His grandson gives him tips on how to flirt with the mature women who are his neighbors there.

Reach for Me (2008). An older man has a very cranky outlook on being a resident of a nursing home. Some of the staff, his young adult roommate and an attractive new resident wield some influence over him. Directed by LaVar Burton.
Is Anybody There? (2008). Michael Caine stars as a retired magician who strikes up a friendship with a boy whose parents run the rest home where he lives.
The Savages (2007).  Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as siblings who are working together (and sometimes against each other) to care for their ailing father.  These adult children have spent little time with their father, Lenny Savage, over the past two decades until he gets tentative diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. One of their tasks is to put in a nursing home, which is a decision the daughter particularly isn't ready to make.
How About You? (2007). Vanessa Redgrave and a handful of other veteran actors play residents of rest home who find themselves coming a bit unstrung when the regular manager leaves her free-spirited sister in charge.
Away from Her (2006). Based on a short story by Canadian author Alice Munroe, this movie (starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinset and Olivia Dukakis) depicts the changes that take place when a woman enters a memory care nursing home.
Frontline: Living Old (2006).  A documentary that focuses on the frailty that many experience in late life.  The  film makers visit people in a variety of venues but primarily those living at home and receiving home health care.
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005). Joan Plowright plays the title character who starts the film by moving into a residential hotel for older adults.  Her own relatives fail to visit, so she strikes up a friendship with a young actor played by Rupert Friend.
Boynton Beach Club (2005). Set primarily in an active retirement community, this film focuses on six characters who are adjusting to single life during late adulthood.  They have to learn how to manage a mixture of loneliness and new relationships after decades of marriage. The awkwardness results in a little heartache and a little comedy.
The Notebook (2004).  The frame-tale for this film takes place in a nursing home, but the movie consists of flashbacks to the early stages of a relationship between characters played by James Garner and Gena Rowlands.
Assisted Living (2003). This indie film splices in footage from a documentary about a multi-level care center behind a fictional story about a resident and a staff member who form an uneasy friendship.

Gin Game (2003). Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore play residents of an assisted living center.  They meet when he asks her to play a game of gin. From there we watch their relationship grow more and more complicated. It plays out a bit like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, except they are not married. The nursing home setting only exerts nominal influence on their characters.
Sunset Story (2003). This documentary introduces viewers to friends octogenarian Isja and nonagenarian Lucille who live in Sunset Hall, a retirement community for free-thinking older adults. These two friends are sharp, socially engaged and interested in current events.  Nevertheless, they must manage age-related challenges. They do so with energy and positive thinking.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). Two nursing home residents discover that a mummy is attacking their fellow residents. One resident thinks he's Elvis, and the other thinks he's JFK. This doesn't stop them from becoming late-life heroes. This low-budget comedy horror film has a lot of crass humor regarding sex and bodily functions, but it has some good in it too.
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). While the more dramatic part of the story is told through a series of flashbacks, the frame tale to this film (and book) takes place in a nursing home. An older women helps strengthen a younger woman who is suffering an identity crisis as midlife.
Age-Old Friends (1989).  Hume Crone and Vincent Gardenia star as friends living in the same assisted living facility.  Based on a play, the movie is set on Sundays over a series of several weeks.  

Cocoon (1985). This science-fiction film is set in a retirement home with many older adults playing key roles. Even though the plot is fantastical, the themes deal with aging issues.

Movies set in nursing homes or retirement communities that I Haven't Seen Yet:

Black Noise (2013)
Assisted Fishing (2012) 
Cortex (2008) 
The Wendell Baker Story (2005) 
Paradise Grove (2003)  


Films about Love and Sex for People 50 plus
Films about Aging A-L


  1. Our best friend, he's 87, lives in a retirement community. He loves it there. They have movie night, complete with popcorn. Your list is really good... It is so hard to face aging and the challenges it brings with it. Ed's younger brother is in an assisted living facility suffering from dementia. Oh do I have stories about that. Anyway, I'm glad Verizon brought us together, I think I have a lot to learn about you.

  2. Karen, I am glad your octogenarian friend has found a retirement community that he enjoys. Oh, dementia is a hard thing for all involved. I will give you a hug to loan you whatever energy I can once I see you next week. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  3. Wow! what a great list of movies. I never knew there were a lot of films dealing with the subject of long-term care and care facilities. My siblings and I experienced how it is to be caregivers to our father and it's really tough because we tried our best to grant his wish of not being moved to a long-term care facility. Anyway, can't wait to watch some of these great films. Thanks for posting!

    1. Imani: Thanks for stopping by. All my best to your father, you and your siblings.

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