Film and TV

The Waiting Room humanizes a hospital's flaws without forcing a cure

The mandate at Oakland's Highland Hospital, as one doctor says during Pete Nicks's attentive vérité portrait of the place, is to admit people "just as much for their social conditions as for their medical ones." And as the same guy wearily acknowledges, "The ER's not the place to manage someone's overall health." But Nicks hasn't set out to decry a faulty and dehumanizing health-care system. He'd rather just see how a safety-net hospital cares for its unfortunate abundance of mostly uninsured patients. He has the presence of mind to reveal how humanizing the place actually is. Punctuated only with discreet flourishes of music and time-lapse, Nicks's style feels more retro than novel: the fly on the wall during a day in the life. And indeed, what makes The Waiting Room worth visiting is how well it does without the usual narcotizing doc tactics. There's not a single animated interlude or hectoring infographic. Scene after scene goes by without any polemical point-scoring. The closest Nicks comes to narration is overlaying scenes of patients' stoic triage endurance with their self-told tales of recent layoffs, lost wages and lack of coverage. Rather than press suffering people into service as political pawns, he judiciously allows them a non-reductive sort of anonymity. It's the crucial difference between testimony and experience. Formally, at least, it's also one reliable antidote to all manner of urgent unwellness.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan Kiefer
Contact: Jonathan Kiefer