WHAT IT’S ABOUT For two years, Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio — a veteran director and producer of “Oprah’s Master Class” — followed Scott and younger brother Seth Avett from their boyhood home in North Carolina to Malibu, while they worked on their Grammy-nominated album, 2016’s “True Sadness.” There are plenty of interviews — with bandmates Bob Crawford, Joe Kwon and Mike Marsh — and some intimate moments, too. Seth reveals on camera, for example, that girlfriend Jennifer Carpenter is expecting. Their celebrated producer, Rick Rubin, gets his close-up as well. You can’t miss him: With flowing white beard, he looks like David Letterman’s long-lost brother.
MY SAY The Avett Brothers are a fine folk-rock band who perform songs about love, loss, broken hearts, death, life’s meaning and, famously, Brooklyn (“I and Love and You”). They also have one particularly influential fan. We should all have such a fan.
In “May It Last” — the name comes from the final track in “True Sadness” — Syosset-raised Apatow has lavished 103 minutes of devotion on the brothers, and they do nothing to suggest it’s not earned. In this account, their fraternal bond is genuine, their music deeply felt and their craftsmanship impeccable. Their bandmates esteem them, their parents, too. The feelings, you quickly learn, are all mutual. It’s a portrait in a major key, where the shadows have been banished. What’s missing, perhaps, is a little shade.
In whatever form it might conceivably take here, some shade would at least help explore the well of emotion that’s sunk so deep into any of these songs — most from “True Sadness” — like “I Wish I Was” or “No Hard Feelings.” Their own coming-of-age ballad, “Fisher Road to Hollywood,” opens with “Regret for every step I took/From Fisher Road to Hollywood/Feelin’ bad and actin’ good/Never was content.”
But you’re left to wonder exactly why. What happened along the way that bruised their souls, and broke their hearts? Late in the program, Seth offers this: “Regardless of what we have become in the last 13 years, we have become professional in reading our diary onstage, and singing about being alienated from myself and about our worries and desolation and pain. Just singing that onstage seems completely reasonable to me.”
Exactly right, and exactly why Apatow and so many others have embraced them over the past 15 years. But what “May It Last” never adequately explores is where that desolation and pain came from. The result is a celebration, without much in the way of revelation.
BOTTOM LINE A warm, gentle, loving portrait that doesn’t much explore the emotional core of this most emotional of bands.
THE DOCUMENTARY “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers”
WHEN | WHERE Monday at 8 p.m. on HBO