'The Waiting Room' captures 24 hours of human drama

Posted 1:16pm on Thursday, Feb. 07, 2013

Unrated; 82 min.

To watch Peter Nicks' The Waiting Room is to wish it would never end. This is important to say at the outset, because any description of this documentary, about a day in the life of a hospital waiting room, might make it sound like a sermon. No, this is human drama at its most intense and universal.

It takes place in Oakland's Highland Hospital, an emergency room that treats hundreds of people a day, many of them uninsured. The movie follows patients, doctors and nurses, and if you enter the movie thinking you have problems, you will probably walk out thinking you don't, not like this.

The Waiting Room is a series of revelations. Some might be called political, but most are spiritual. They are revelations of human suffering, of the daily heroism of frontline doctors and of a saintly nurse at reception who, in the midst of chaos -- even as she has to disappoint people, and tell them no, they can't be seen -- still makes everyone feel like a person.

Yes, The Waiting Room functions as an admonition that something must be done, by showing us an America with its pants down. But it's also an admonition to slow down and look at the strangers you see on the train, or in the store, and imagine what their lives might be like.

The filmmaker knows this, which is why he chooses not to end with updates about the people presented onscreen. Instead he ends it in a zone of poetry, showing in fast motion people coming and going in that room over the course of a day. All those stories, all those lives we will never know.

Exclusive: The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

-- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

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