At first glance, Pat and Bill Loud would seem to have it all: wealth, social standing, a nice house in the tony California community of Santa Barbara, and five beautiful children: the flamboyant Lance, aspiring rock stars Kevin and Grant, love-struck teen Delilah, and tomboy Michelle. But the serenity is all about to change. Into their world of progressive privilege walks New York producer Craig Gilbert, who is seeking a family willing to allow a camera crew into its home.
The family members each have their own motivation for signing on. Pat wants the world to see the Loud Family standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, despite her suspicions about her husband’s infidelities; Bill enjoys being in the spotlight; and Lance has a forum for his new life in New York, where he finds the freedom he’s been seeking in the city of Warhol and drag queens.
No one is prepared, however, for the revelations that are unveiled before the camera’s gaze, and Gilbert’s persistence in pushing beyond the Louds’ comfort zone begins to undermine Pat’s commitment, as well as that of Alan and Susan Raymond, the filmmakers hired to record the Louds’ every move. Debuting in 1973, An American Family becomes a national sensation with its warts-and-all portrait of the Louds. Ultimately, the quintessential American family is vivisected in the cultural media, and their lives are turned into a national punch line. But unexpectedly and even heroically, adversity proves to be ultimately bonding, as the Louds get revenge in ironic fashion – in a televised confrontation with Gilbert in which Pat gets the last word.