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The Life and Tragic Death of Adrienne Shelly Examined in New HBO Documentary (Review)

There was a moment in the early 90s when it looked like actress Adrienne Shelly would become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

She burst onto the scene with extraordinary leading roles in two independent films by Hal Hartley. 1989’s “The Unbelievable Truth” and 1990’s “Trust” were wildly unique and quirky comedies that became minor hits on the arthouse circuit and ended up finding larger audiences thanks to home video.

As an actor, she was struggling by the late 90s to be cast in the kinds of movies she was really passionate, so she started to make her own. A 1997 feature called “Sudden Manhattan” is nearly impossible to track down these days, but she made a much bigger splash with what turned out to be her final film.

Shelly wrote and directed the 2007 feature “Waitress,” which not only made a big splash at Sundance that January but has turned into a massive hit as a Broadway musical with music written by Sara Bareilles.

Sadly, Shelly did not live to even see “Waitress” premiere at Sundance. She died in the fall of 2006 while the movie was in post-production. Initially ruled a suicide, the unexpected news of her death turned even stranger after it was discovered that she had been murdered.

Shelly’s death left behind a shattered family. Her husband Andy Ostroy directs this heartbreaking documentary that not only covers her life and career, but dissects the aftermath of the police investigation that finally shed light on Shelly’s final moments.

You can certainly argue that a more impartial film could’ve been made from an outside perspective, but Ostroy uses the opportunity to not only pay tribute to his late wife, but also to examine how a family survives such a tragic experience. Their daughter Sophie was only 2 years old when her mother died and so she never even got the chance to really know her.

Thankfully there were hours and hours of home video footage as well as copious amounts of interviews that have helped Sophie get a small glimpse of who her mother really was.

The most difficult portion of the documentary to get through is when Ostroy heads to prison to confront the man who murdered his wife. That man was just a 19-year-old construction worker who botched a robbery and changed many lives forever on that fateful day in 2006.

Adrienne” premieres tonight at 8pm eastern on HBO and will be available starting at the same time for on-demand streaming through HBO Max.

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