Overview: On Sunday, July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler left the campgrounds in upstate New York where she was vacationing with her family and set off towards home on Long Island, a drive she had made numerous times before. With her were five young children: her son, her daughter and three nieces. Four hours later, she drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway for nearly two miles eventually crashing into an oncoming SUV, killing herself and seven others. One of the worst motor-vehicle accidents in New York State history, the tragedy quickly became national news and her actions on that day, and in the past, were thrust under a microscope in a desperate search for answers.
In the aftermath, Diane Schuler was portrayed as a reckless drunk and a mother who cracked. But was she the monster the public made her out to be? Or the perfect wife and mother described by so many who knew her? Filmmaker Liz Garbus explores this puzzling tragedy through interviews with never-before-heard witnesses and with Diane’s friends, as well as chronicling what transpired minute-by-minute.
The need to make sense of a mysterious and shattering tragedy such as this is a natural impulse, which in many cases can never be fully fulfilled. The documentary reveals a complex and complicated case as opposed to one solved by simple or reductive analysis that has left all those involved still wondering what really happened to Aunt Diane.
Expectations: This documentary is a bit unique for it does not just offer flat descriptions of events, but really shapes a mystery. It won’t just be the delivery of what happened, but tries to explain why it happened. I’m not sure, however, if all the puzzle pieces can be placed to get a solid answer or to satisfy the Schuler family. It does come across as an interesting mystery to sift through in an evening. Care to join me as we try to piece together what happened to Diane Schuler? Here is the original trailer from 2011.
Gut Reaction: This is not Garbus’s best work. After setting up the premise no real hard issues were even raised until after the one hour mark and the specifics of the accident until the last fifteen minutes. The bulk of the piece was spent by people offering character witness to the kind of person Diane Schuler was; even from old friends who hadn’t associated with her in a decade. What bearing did they have on the women as she was just prior to her death? All of their testimonials lead up to the notion that Diane would not put the life of children in danger nor drink and drive. That is all moot because she did put lives in danger, knowledgeably or not.
Not only is it a badly assembled work, in my opinion, but it also refuses to address a recurring notion throughout. This family is in denial! They will never be at peace with what happened and the terrible loss they feel. They need to find some way to justify it in a way that satisfies them so they can begin to heal and move on, but cannot accept the truths, including scientific ones staring them in the face. It is a tragedy all around for all involved with new easy way to heal. Yet, no one seems to approach the family about being in denial.
This story does not have the answers to the riddle faced. Diane died never truly revealing what was wrong. Did she puff weed and chug booze on the drive in front of the kids? Why did a short trip back home take hours? We don’t know, but it is likely an abscessed tooth did not cloud her judgment as the family claims. Having not found pain relief evidenced by the captured footage, did she find some alternative in her camping supplies or, in her diversion off the route, take her to a bar or liquor store? What caused her to barrel oblivious up a parkway the wrong way for a couple of miles? We will never know. And we will never know what type of person she was on that particular day, at least from this addled family or this poorly structured documentary.
In Conclusion: THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH AUNT DIANE is 101 minutes long and first aired in 2011. It sadly did not really play up the tragedy or the mystery of this accident, but showcased a family in denial. The documentary seemed to be more about how the Schuler family dealt with the tragedy than the horrific event itself. They have the right to mourn and never forget. They have the right to ask and wonder, but all that sadly will not bring back those eight people. If you watch it I am afraid you will not have a satisfying conclusion and the mystery will always remain even if you easily accept the toxicology report.
The documentary airs on HBOGo and there are theories to what happened on YouTube.
Next Week: Two ladies offer their stories to highlight the issue of Domestic Abuse in PRIVATE VIOLENCE a new premiere debuting 10.20 on HBO.