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There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane | TV review

An HBO doc tests viewers’ ability to accept without understanding.
HBO EMOTIONAL WRECKAGE Aunt Diane deals with the aftermath of a tragedy.
By Sam Adams |

It seemed like an unimaginable tragedy, until it got even worse: A suburban mother, returning from a camping trip with a minivan full of children, slams into an oncoming car on the Taconic Parkway in New York State, killing eight and leaving only her five-year-old son alive. Further information deepened the horror: Diane Schuler had been driving erratically for miles, prompting her frightened nieces to call their father, Schuler’s brother, for help. Then, days later, the most devastating news: Schuler was heavily intoxicated at the time of the crash, with the equivalent of ten drinks in her system, and high on marijuana to boot.

Garbus’s documentary doesn’t unearth any bombshells: It’s less about finding answers than learning to live with them—or, in the case of Schuler’s husband, not. As a widowed single father caring for a brain-damaged son, he’s a natural figure of sympathy—or would be, but for his refusal to accede to the autopsy findings or admit his wife capable of such an act. As Schuler and his sister (his sole ally) pursue retesting—funded in significant part by the filmmakers—the question isn’t what they’ll discover so much as when they’ll come to terms with it. The movie offers a few plausible explanations as to what might have been wrong with Diane Schuler, but ultimately it tests her family’s, and its audience’s, ability to accept without understanding.