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Movie Review

Cinema Verite

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Cinema Verite
Photo Source: HBO/Doug Hyun
In 1973, before "The Real World," "The Real Housewives," or "Jersey Shore," there was "An American Family," the first successful reality television series to burst into living rooms. It chronicled the lives of the Louds, a middle-class family in Santa Barbara, Calif., who let cameras follow them for seven months in 1971. "Cinema Verite," produced by HBO Films, delves into the lives of the people who took part in the groundbreaking project and explores what may have been their motivations for getting involved.

Diane Lane plays Pat Loud, the matriarch of the family, who agrees, for reasons unclear, to let cameras into her home. Did she really believe that hers was the perfect American family? Was she just charmed by filmmaker Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini)? Or did she hope the project would keep her husband, Bill, whom she suspected of cheating, close to home?

Lane is a master at creating characters who deal with inner conflict, and she plays all sides of Pat, matching the real-life Mrs. Loud's mannerisms perfectly. Gandolfini's grinning Gilbert is a conflicted and passionate filmmaker whose numerous reasons for pursuing the project are clearly on display. Tim Robbins is convincing as the philandering Bill. In the climactic scene, which mirrors the most dramatic moment of the series, Robbins flawlessly re-creates Bill's reaction. Waiting to see what he'll do next, viewers will be on the edge of their seats—just as they were when "An American Family" aired.

Unfortunately, the film barely touches on the fact that eldest son Lance became an icon in the gay community after the series was broadcast. To not explore this, especially after having cast the excellent actor Thomas Dekker to portray him, is disappointing. As the film runs only 90 minutes, it would seem there was enough time to include it.

In current times, what we call reality television is edited and dramatized, and parts of it are even scripted. "An American Family" was a show in which the camera caught genuine emotion and everyday life. After watching "Cinema Verite," you will want to Google the real people and watch the real thing. Thankfully, PBS will be airing all 12 episodes of "An American Family" marathon-style on April 23.

"Cinema Verite" premieres April 23 at 9 p.m. on HBO.
Genre: Drama
Written by David Seltzer
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Starring Diane Lane, James Gandolfini, Tim Robbins, Thomas Dekker

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