Review: “Our American Family”

Year: 2021
Runtime: 87 minutes
Directors: Hallee Adelman, Sean King O’Grady

By Morgan Roberts

Substance abuse is not uncommon. I guarantee you know someone who has some form of a substance abuse disorder, especially considering the opioid crisis. The documentary film, “Our American Family,” is a harrowing and honest look at one family fighting for sobriety and healing.

The film follows a close-knit Philadelphia area family who has struggled with generational substance abuse. At the start of the film, daughter Nicole resides in a treatment facility in yet another attempt to get and remain sober. Nicole and her two brothers, Chris and Stephen, witnessed their father’s addiction which resulted in their mother, Linda, leaving him with her children. But, the damage was already done. The trauma of their childhood left Nicole using substances to cope, and Chris also dealing with addiction, depression, and suicidal ideation. Linda spends much of the film reflecting on generational trauma, her mother’s eating disorder, her own experiences, and what has occurred with her own children.

“Our American Family” is an intimate look at a family’s life as they learn to come to terms with their trauma histories and attempt to create healthy ways of living. They are not perfect and it is sometimes very hard to watch their hurt unfold. There is one scene in particular where Chris completely berates Nicole as a preemptive coping mechanism, as the family fears Nicole will relapse again, restarting her recovery process. Those moments are very raw, but also very earnest. You can tell that there is a mixture of pain and fear and love as this family processes their present, reconciles with their past, and fights for their future.

But the film doesn’t focus solely on the dark side of addiction. It does explore the empathy and humanness of recovery. We see the resilience of people and the kindness (with accountability) we must show our past selves in order to move forward. Many times, when we see addiction depicted in film, we only look at the spiral to inevitable doom. This film, while not unrealistic about the realities of relapse, also shows the ways in which life continues to move forward. The quiet moments of love between parent and child. The way siblings joke amongst each other. The stillness of being with a close friend. Even with the threat of relapse looming, there are still every day stressors that cause bumps in the road paired with moments of joy and love.

“Our American Family” is a thoughtful and sincere look at one American family, their relationships, their trauma, and their addictions. And not to break the reviewing fourth wall, but I worked for years in mental health. So often, misconceptions are all we see in film. The stereotypes of substance abuse are all that is depicted. However, “Our American Family” does an incredible job of humanizing addiction and recovery. It doesn’t shy away from the mess, but also finds ways to highlight love and healing. “Our American Family” might not be the easiest watch, but it is certainly a necessary one.

“Our American Family” opens at Cinema Village in NYC and Laemmle Monica in LA on 02 September, and then available on VOD in the US and Canada on 06 September.

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