HBO’s 2010 film "Cinema Verite" is about the making of the 70s PBS series "An American Family," the first reality show. It starred the Loud family, whose eldest son Lance became a rock singer, the first person perhaps to out himself in front of the nation. The series was a snapshot of a successful dysfunctional family. This HBO behind-the-scenes drama is an attempt to capture the circumstances of this unlikely cultural event. It half succeeds.
The period aesthetic is flawless, from the clothes, the music, the lingo and cutting back and forth to the real series ingeniously; and fine performances by Diane Lane and Tim Robbins as Pat and Bill Loud. The script, by David Seltzer, gets clammy after a very promising start and it becomes less a story about the whole family and more about the parents’ constant fighting. Everyone else’s concerns remain sketchy and Lance’s story evaporates even with a very spirited performance by Thomas Dekker.
James Gandolfini is cast as the documentary filmmaker Craig Gilbert, underplayed to the point of blandness to prove that he’s not Tony Soprano anymore.
The direction by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Puccini is alternately tight and unfocused, so that your interest drifts. The DVD has cast interviews and running audio commentary by the directors and Lane.