Judd Apatow‘s latest film (which he co-directs with Michael Bonfiglio) is not a comedy or even a major studio film. It’s a documentary on the wildly popular band The Avett Brothers. I had always known of and about the band, but I had never really sat down and listened to any of their albums. My cousin Richard and his wife Blair are huge fans of the band, and I kept texting them when it was first announced all the way up until the movie was about to play. Richard might’ve gone a little stir crazy when I texted him that the band was seated right across the aisle from me. And the entire Paramount Theatre wasn’t full of actual SXSW registrants, but fans of the band. Everybody had gotten wristbands through the band or the band’s fan club, so this was more of a screening for The Avett Brothers’s fans rather than a formal world premiere. It fit with this touching, moving, exciting, and funny documentary about one of the biggest bands in America right now.
Apatow and Bonfiglio follow the band during the 2014-2015 years, when the band is gearing up to record their latest album, True Sadness. We get a taste of their life back in North Carolina, where they still live with their families and not too far from their parents. Seth Avett is the one with the Willie Nelson-style braids who’s married to former Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter (who appears in the film), while Scott Avett is the one with and established family by the time we’re introduced to him. They live close to one another, and there’s a bond that the two have that very few bands have with one another, and it makes a lot of the more heartfelt and moving sequences all the more powerful in this film. From sharing tragedy to going through the often painful songwriting process of writing what feels like emotionally draining songs.
Throughout the film, we’re introduced to Scott and Seth, along with their family and the bandmates. Similar to Seth and Scott’s bond, the relationship within the band is pretty powerful and strong. The same can be said during the portion of the film that focuses on bassist Bob Crawford‘s daughter, who had to undergo a brain tumor a few years back and is continuing to recover from the heartbreaking disease. The fate of the band was up in the air during this time, but the band didn’t really seem to focus on the touring/recording aspect of it all during this time. They wanted to be with their bandmate and help in any way that they could.
The film could become very emotionally charged at times like this, and there wasn’t a dry eye to be found in the audience of die-hard fans. But this behind-the-scenes look could be just as rewarding emotionally as it can be draining, as we see the band hanging out in the studio with legendary music producer Rick Rubin on the other side producing their work. The concert sequences were electric that they show in the film, and the audience was cheering and clapping along the whole way through. I’m not as big a fan as even half of the people in that theater, but I think I became a fan of The Avett Brothers after this film (and even after their impromptu mini-concert following the screening).
May it Last will be airing on HBO sometime later in the year, but if you’re still at SXSW I recommend going to see the one other screening for the film tomorrow at the Zach Theatre at 3:00. It’s a moving and very well made documentary on one of America’s best Americana bands out there. I’m not a super fan like the rest of the audience was, but I think this will be a film that a lot of people will really dig, no matter your love of the band. The super-fans like my cousins will love this film, and I kind of felt the same way after the screening.