Picks and Pans Review: My Uncle Berns

UPDATED 08/09/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/09/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Thurs., Aug. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET)
DOCUMENTARY

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Lindsay Crystal's feature-length filmmaking debut isn't self-indulgent, it's family-indulgent. And that's not such a bad thing.

This documentary is a valentine to Bernhardt Crystal, great-uncle of the director and uncle of her father, comedian-actor Billy. "Berns" turns out to be an engaging and eccentric character—a combat artist, both seared and inspired by his World War II experiences, who went on to own a delightfully eclectic gallery in New York City. Now 89, Berns is clearly much beloved by all the Crystals, and Lindsay succeeds in capturing his wit, warmth and ebullience. As a bonus, the film brings his original drawings to life with a touch of animation.

Some of the reminiscences are repetitive—Billy's brothers Joel and Richard come in for a share of the screen time—and Uncle Berns's fooling around occasionally wears thin. Maybe only a kid could fully appreciate the way he plays the spoons. But here is a man who's eminently worth knowing, and we might not get this opportunity if he and the filmmaker didn't share a famous last name.

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