Judd Apatow showcases documentary chops with “May It Last: A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers”

For many, Judd Apatow is purely thought of as a sort of comedy godfather. Between writing, directing, and producing, he’s responsible for some of the biggest comedies of the past decade. That’s both on television as well as in theaters. However, he offers more than that, as he’s occasionally supported smaller and more independent fare, helping to get it showcased. Today, he goes the documentary route for just the second time (after the ESPN 30 for 30 offering Doc & Darryl) with May It Last: A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers, something very different than you’d expect from Apatow. It’s a one night only special event that celebrates not just a band, but a quieter style of musical documentary filmmaking. In addition, it proves even further that Apatow is a supreme talent in this business.

This documentary is a look at North Carolina based folk rock band The Avett Brothers. As they created their 2016 album True Sadness, Apatow and co-director Michael Bonfiglio followed around band members Scott Avett, Seth Avett, Bob Crawford, and Joe Kwon as they went about the business of making music. From studio work to concerts to tours, the camera lingered and watched as the group created. It’s a quiet yet always compelling look at a musical group that’s free of drama, though innately able to capture your interest. Apatow and Bonfiglio direct and produce here, while Jonathan Furmanski handles the cinematography. It’s a niche work, but it’s one that’s highly effective at what it sets out to do.

What makes this doc work is how it isn’t just interested in concert footage and isn’t just interested in behind the scenes moments with the band. It’s very much a fly on the wall type of film, with Apatow and Bonfiglio letting the camera observe The Avett Brothers in action. Sometimes they’re at home, sometimes they’re on the road, sometimes they’re on the stage, but always they’re being themselves. Ostensibly, they’re in the process of creating their most recent album, but that’s hardly the sole focus here. The movie allows us to just have a nice time experiencing their lives. It literally is a portrait of The Avett Brothers, making the title incredible apt.

Here’s a bit about Apatow’s comedy history, to underscore just how unique this doc seems in his filmography:

Apatow has a long history in the business, going back to early stand up days, along with work on less heralded films as he first broke into Hollywood. When Apatow moved from producing and writing (though he continues to produce a number of comedy/dramedy shows on television, like the just finished Girls and Love, as well as shepherding smaller films like Begin Again and just this year The Big Sick) to also directing, he burst on the scene with The 40 Year Old Virgin. Teamed up with now Academy Award nominee Steve Carell, they crafted an uproarious sex comedy that also managed to have a ton of heart. Both Apatow and Carell (who co-wrote with him) were cited with a Writers Guild of America nomination, and I’d go so far as to say that if that had been a mandatory year of ten Best Picture nominees, we might have seen The 40 Year Old Virgin make it in. The same could be said of his follow up, Knocked Up, which again scored Apatow a WGA nod (a solo one this time). He made a star out of Seth Rogen, at the same time he was beginning to also shepherd other big comedies to the screen. He made the hits Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Pineapple Express, establishing himself as one of the most influential and powerful comedy voices in Hollywood, to say the least. That led to a move towards slightly more serious fare, possibly in an effort to finally break through with the Golden Globes and Oscar. Even though I adore Funny People, it was met with modest reviews and was Apatow’s first modern box office disappointment. It showcased some of Adam Sandler’s best work to date, but it was to many a bloated film with far too much going on. It was more or less ignored by all precursors, with the same being said for his sort of sequel to Knocked Up, the relationship dramedy This is 40. Since then, he’s opted to get back to basics a bit, making a comedy in Trainwreck that seemed more like something we would have made during the time when The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up were becoming smash hits. It was phenomenal, but definitely more traditional. That’s what makes this musical doc stand out so much. It showcases his versatility.

Today only, May It Last: A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers will play in theaters, and it’s well worth seeing. Apatow is obviously known for making you laugh, but this doc will do an excellent job of making you smile. If you’re a fan of The Avett Brothers, this already is marked down on your calendar as a must see. If you just like documentaries, and especially musical documentaries, it’s definitely worthy of your time and money. It’s a welcome mellow tonic in a sea of heavy non fiction cinema, especially this time of year. Give it a shot and see what you think…

Be sure to check out May It Last: A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers, in theaters today for one night only!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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