Smart biopic raises worthy questions about reality TV.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this made-for-television movie targeted at adults has unbleeped swearing (in the form of "bulls--t" and "a--hole), although characters don't use strong language constantly. Many scenes involve alcohol, too, and some characters smoke cigarettes. Sexual content isn't overt and is limited to innuendo, with scenes alluding to extramarital affairs and homosexuality.
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What's the Story?
HBO's CINEMA VERITE is a period biopic that charts the creation, filming, and impact of the groundbreaking 1973 documentary series An American Family, the popularity of which helped pave the way for modern-day reality television. When filmmaker Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) approaches the California-based Loud family -- including father Bill (Tim Robbins), mother Pat (Diane Lane), and children Lance (Thomas Dekker), Kevin (Johnny Simmons), Grant (Nick Eversman), Delilah (Caitlin Custer), and Michelle (Kaitlyn Dever) -- about appearing in a pioneering documentary about their day-to-day lives, they agree to the project, never realizing that it will change their lives forever.
Is It Any Good?
Thanks to spot-on art direction and a nostalgic soundtrack featuring songs by Carole King, Mama Cass, and The Who, Cinema Verite feels well-rooted in 1970s realism. It creates an authentic sense of place that sets the stage for the birth of reality television as we know it. And the resulting film is a long, strange, fascinating trip that prompts plenty of valid questions about reality, celebrity, and the consequences of capturing people's lives on camera.
One particularly effective technique, in which footage of the actual Loud family (courtesy of the original 1973 documentary series) is shown alongside uncanny footage of the actors portraying them, subtly but shrewdly reinforces the ever-blurry line between fact and fiction in the context of reality TV. In a perfect world, we'd recommend following up the film with some spirited family discussion and a critical viewing of An American Family ... but, ironically, it's not available on DVD. Yet.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how documentaries and reality TV shows are conceived and produced. Is there such a thing as cinema verite (literally, "the cinema of truth")? How "real" is reality television? Is real life riveting enough, or do producers push cameras and subjects to produce more drama for better ratings?
Should filmmakers have an ethical responsibility to their subjects? Can -- and should -- a film crew remain objective while living and working with a family and getting to know them? Is true objectivity possible?
To what extent are the subjects of documentaries and reality TV shows being manipulated by filmmakers and producers? Who's using who? How much control do the subjects of these programs have over how they're portrayed? Should they have more or less control?
- On DVD or streaming: April 24, 2012
- Cast: Diane Lane, James Gandolfini, Tim Robbins
- Studio: HBO Home Video
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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