The Waiting Room

Rated 4.0

Pete Nicks' documentary asks how Oakland's Highland Hospital cares for its unfortunate abundance of mostly uninsured patients, then actually listens to the long answer. Punctuated only with discreet flourishes of music and time lapse, Nicks' 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, and scene after scene goes by without any polemical point scoring. The closest Nicks comes to narration is overlaying episodes 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 nonreductive sort of anonymity and allows the audience a felt experience instead of mere recorded testimony.