Having Our American Family out there is a good reminder that movies don't always have to be flashy they just need to tell a story



An honest, unfiltered look at a close-knit Philadelphia family dealing with generational substance abuse.

WHAT THIS DOCUMENTARY DOES WELL: Hey look I will be the 1st to admit that sometimes I get a little carried away with deconstructing a film from the technical points of view and getting lost in the more "behind the scenes" aspects in my reviews I do here. I love movies that much though and I do hope people get something out of that but all that being said this review is not going to give you a whole lot of that. While I admire the approach to the framing, the deft hands of the camerawork weaving us in and out and holding us steady, the direction from Hallee Adelman and Sean O'Grady, and their editing choices which are all very astute, sometimes it's a lot simpler than that as far what makes a good movie. 

I realized that far beyond the conventional sit-down and let's talk/recap approach or the technically elevated modern documentary (which can also bog down), the simplest stories revolve around emotion and truth. The true strength of this film is that it establishes all the people we need to know and care about in the 1st act and while Nicole kind of takes over center stage, there is not an overwhelming lean toward this perspective or that. Often times documentaries with this strong subject matter do. In fact, there is a lot of growing, self-discovery, self-deprivation, and introspection that we as an audience experience right along with the main cast. That is beyond engaging an audience, that's making them a part of the story. It's hard not to stay with it after you find that moment that you become a part of it. 

This family all has a keen sense of the camera being there and are well aware judgment from an audience is coming, almost in a weird esoteric 4th wall way, which makes it even more like an experience versus a 2d projection. What this approach does so brilliantly is it shows the vulnerable aspects of this fight and this emotional weight that is carried in such a relatable tone that you feel nearly obligated to hug, cry, and just hold these folks in your hearts and minds. It also doesn't pull punches or sugarcoat any of this and in doing that you are as an audience equally weighing how much you might enable versus putting your foot down and taking a side of the story. That is incredible storytelling through as real as it gets life, something that has a magical quality to it. Being able to observe that feels a lot more special and a lot more like you have an investment in it. Now there are lulls and there are frustrating moments, as there are in real life, again keeping its strength is the good and bad here. However at least they are on par with one another, so even in the knit pickiest of moments here, at certain times this audience member was wishing for a change of pace or a different technique to be employed, it seemed more self-serving than it did a true critique. I did find myself looking at that after the fact though. It never robbed me of an emotional moment or took me out of the movie ever.  Thus making the important aspects hit home for me.

Sometimes you just don't know how much a movie really strikes you or impacts you until you sit with it. That's the real power of this movie here. It doesn't hold its punches, it feels as raw and courageous as its subjects because of who they are and what we learn about them coming from their candidness and camera awareness. Their willingness to be open and just be is invaluable. Its message is equally so and there are layers and levels to the many messages being presented here. One of which may just resign with you for a long time to come.