In 2009, 36-year-old Diane Schuler drove the wrong way on the Teconic Parkway in Upstate New York and ultimately collided head-on with an SUV. She, her daughter, her three nieces, and three people in the SUV were killed in the crash. The accident made headlines, especially after it was revealed that a postmortem toxicology test showed that she was heavily under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana. In 2011, Liz Garbus directed the film There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane for HBO, a film that features interviews with Schuler’s husband Daniel and her sister-in-law, Jay, who insist that she was not a drinker and couldn’t or wouldn’t have deliberately put the children in danger.
The documentary is a pretty straightforward retracing of the accident as well as the events prior to it, which was a weekend camping trip at the Hunter Lake Campground; and Garbus also unravels the accident’s aftermath, including media coverage and how Daniel as well as his son (who was the only survivor of the crash) are recovering. We see security camera footage of some of Schuler’s last interactions with people before the accident that day as well as interviews with those who were at the McDonald’s and convenience store where she was last scene and people who saw her driving erratically on the highway. The title itself comes from a call that Schuler’s niece placed to her parents prior to the crash.
This is a tough documentary to watch, although at the same time, I found it riveting. The deaths of children are very hard for me to handle both in fiction and nonfiction. At the same time, while I chose the movie simply for its title, as it unfolded, I began to remember the crash (mostly because I’d probably seen it when Oprah covered it). Then, realizing that the people involved were from West Babylon, NY, which is roughly twenty minutes west of my hometown. So on top of a documentarian trying to uncover the complete story about this horrific accident, we have the full Lawn Guylant on display here. And throughout much of the documentary, Schuler’s husband is determined to prove that the toxicology test was completely wrong, to the point where he hires a private investigator to look into getting another test done.
The film is a study in denial and not only did I have the reaction that I think that anyone would have watching this–i.e., wanting to scream at the screen, especially during certain scenes that were very telling–I also had this visceral disgust throughout most of my viewing because of the “hometown” connection. I mean, I realize that I have unresolved issues about Long Island, and I will tell you that not everyone from there makes me want to rage throw my remote control into my television, but Schuler’s husband comes off as a certain … I don’t know, type … of Long Island guy. It’s even hard to explain, too, except to say that I know a lot of men like that and I get riled up by how obvious doubling down on a story to save face is.
It’s a well-done documentary that allows things to play out when they have to but also tells its story well. I will warn you that the descriptions of the accident and some of the pictures of its aftermath are not for those who are easily triggered by such things, though. It’s currently streaming on HBO Go.
Buy, Rent, or Skip?