24 April 2011 | gradyharp
The 1970s and the Beginning of Reality Television
CINEMA VERITE tries very hard to justify the trend it began in the 1970s by having a camera crew move into the household and private life of the well-to-do Loud family in Santa Barbara. The idea of a docudrama about a docudrama is acceptable as a flag for the obsession with Reality TV shows spawned by this experiment. Unfortunately the writing (by David Seltzer - apparently based on the book written by Pat Loud 'A Woman's Story' about the experience) is spotty and the recreation of (1971 when the 'series' was filmed and 1973 when it hit the television screens) reminds us how boring that time frame was. The direction by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini imitates the dreary 'spontaneity' of live action drama the film addresses. It plods, tripping on the cables for the cameras placed inside the home of this sad story.
Documentary producer Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) devises a concept for PBS he calls 'An American Family' and searches for a family that does not depict the happy-wappy family of staged productions but instead inters the privacy of an American family, examining all the aspects of that institution. He selects the Loud family, particularly because he sees Pat Loud (Diane Lane) as an early women's rights activist able to say truths others might avoid. Gilbert paces his documentary to unveil the dirt that hides behind the scenes - motivated to prod Pat to discover Bill (Tim Robbins) her husband's infidelity, which led her to seek a divorce. The Louds have two sons involved in the dream of becoming a rock band, a daughter in the throes of discovering teenage love, and a gay son Lance (Thomas Dekker) who has moved to New York to live a raucous life without the approval of his father but one visited by Pat without complete acceptance. The film crew consists of a married couple - Alan Raymond (Patrick Fugit) and Susan Raymond (Shanna Collins) - who reluctantly agree to film even the most embarrassing scenes of the film. The gradual crumbling of the Loud marriage - not helped by either Gilbert or by Pat's 'friend' Val (Lolita Davidovich) who is actually another one of Bill's affairs - is what producer Gilbert wants to record, and he succeeds. The Louds end their marriage, Lance later dies of AIDS, and the other children have minor successes in their lives. But the overriding feeling of this film is showing how the inquisitive media can be destructive in attempting to share reality with the world at large. And so began the glut of reality shows that yearly grow more irreverent in respecting privacy.
Diane Lane brings moments of brilliance to her role as the manipulated Pat and James Gandolfini is given the opportunity to push his acting chops. The problem is that we all know the quasi-tragic story on which this film is based, and making us witness it again is less than entertaining. It is disturbing.