Assisted living's portrayal in 'Trainwreck'
Elizabeth Leis Newman
If there's a sign assisted living is making it into the mainstream, it's the part it plays in Amy Schumer's “Trainwreck.”
The R-rated romantic comedy is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. (In other words, I found it hilarious, but if you are uncomfortable with a young woman having a lot of sex, it's not for you.) We could debate the gender politics of it all day, but the part relevant to our industry is its portrayal of assisted living.
Early on, you see our heroine, Amy, and her sister Kim cleaning out their father's house, as they have had to put him into assisted living due to his deteriorating physical condition, a result of multiple sclerosis. In real life, Amy Schumer's father has MS and there are very specific jokes and plot points that come from that experience, including discussion of whether or not the children should put their father in a cheaper facility. The girls' mother has died years ago, and their father was in no way either a good man or adequate parent.
If there's a common theme that comes up in how difficult the jobs are for assisted living and long-term care providers, it's dealing with family strife. Maybe this was easier in an earlier era where we didn't talk so much about our feelings, or when we gave more credence to the physician or healthcare provider, or that previous generations gave more weight to filial obedience. More likely it was simply due to parents dying earlier, so if they were terrible people there was less of a need to struggle with how much luxury they should enjoy in their waning years.
What's also realistic in the movie is the interchange of the use of the term “assisted living” and “nursing home” among the sisters, which is how real, non-industry people talk. It's easy to forget how consumers don't care about or avoid specific terms. I also liked how, despite being a jerk, Amy's father, played by Colin Quinn, does make friends with at least one other senior, who is played by 100-year-old Norman Lloyd. (For film/television buffs, Lloyd worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and was in "St. Elsewhere" and "Dead Poet's Society.") There are certainly situations that would likely never happen in an AL building, but there are never insinuations or jokes at the expense of the facility or caregivers. While there are plenty about the father, they're not related to his disability. There's also a subtle point about one's wishes when ill and how well those are communicated — or aren't — to one's children.
It's not revolutionary to see long-term care come up in a feature film, from “Away from Her” to “The Savages.” But it's brave to incorporate it into a comedy, especially one where the star isn't (yet) a household name. If it makes one family talk about what they want or where they want to go when facing a degenerative illness, Schumer will have accomplished more than making people laugh, which is in itself a fine accomplishment.
Elizabeth Newman is senior editor at McKnight's Long-Term Care News.