Cinema has the power to open our eyes to things we’ve never experienced or seen.
When this happens, it’s usually because we’re being challenged to see the world in different ways or, at times, to change our lives. What’s more, it can also be because the subject matter is a difficult topic or introduces a character which connects with us on a deeper level. And, sometimes, cinema can be hard to watch.
Our American Family is all of these things and more.
Directed by Hallee Adelman and Sean O’Grady, Our American Family is an unfiltered story of one family in Philadelphia as they deal with generational substance abuse. Anchored by their matriarch Linda, they each struggle to deal with the pain of history and work towards finding hope for the future. Although the relationship between them is frayed, they remain loyal to each other to help their family climb out of the depths of their suffering.
Timed for a release with National Recovery Month, Our American Family follows one family’s journey through addiction and recovery from trauma that has stemmed through generations. After having built a relationship with his family over many years, Adelman and O’Grady clearly has led to a level of trust which few filmmakers get with their subjects. For example, conversations around the dinner table are unfiltered and honest. Without interference, the two filmmakers simply allow events to simply unfold around them. (Equally as impressive is the fact that the film does not sensationalize their stories either.) There is an honesty about this film that few other documentaries are able to achieve.
At no time do Linda, Nicole or any of the family adjust their behavior with the cameras present. This family is so particularly open about their issues that one cannot help but feel both embraced and uncomfortable at the same time. They have welcomed the viewer into their home to bear witness to the challenges that they face every day. Instead, this is their family and these are their struggles. As such, this is not a film merely about addiction and recovery but, as the title suggests, about one particular family and their journey towards healing.
And, make no mistake, it is a messy journey.
As Nicole struggles to keep a relationship with her daughter, she battles constant setbacks with her addictions. As Linda tries to hold the family together, she too is grappling with her past. (In fact, almost every member of the family is struggling to deal with their own issues.)
What’s more, Our American Family is also very much a film about reconciliation as much as it is addiction. What does it mean for a family to come together when hurt has taken place? What sorts of courage and grace does it take to rebuild relationships when trust continues to be broken? While some relationships cannot always be fixed, Family reminds us of the commitment and dedication that it takes to stick with the ones that can.
It also reminds us that there’s hope.
While it may not be a ‘fun watch’, Our American Family is a powerful portrait of what it means to suffer from scars of addiction and the dedication that it takes to survive. Even though it focuses on this one particular family, the film also speaks to the struggles that many others face as they attempt to move on from times of addiction or pain. This may be their American family… but the challenges they face could be anyone.
Our American Family is available in select theatres on Friday, September 2, 2022 and on VOD on September 6th, 2022.