It’s easy to be loving to each other when things are going great!
Director: Clay Tweel
Cast: Steven Gleason and Michel Varisco-Gleason
To those of you who are American Football fans, Steve Gleason is more than likely a name that you’re familiar with, but, if like me and pretty much most people who live outside of America you don’t give the sport, the start of the sentence is the first time you’ve seen that name. Other than the rules, I know very little about American Football and to be honest, it is the least likely of the major American sports to peak my interest (admittedly I am already a fan of ice hockey (go Flames)), so I’m hoping this focuses more on the situation rather than the sport.
Anyway, I first saw the trailer for this documentary about two years ago and despite the heavy connections with one of those most overrated sports in the world, I found myself warming to Steve Gleason as a person and that made me want to watch this documentary. There are also family reasons that I wanted to watch this as my brother has a similar condition to Steven, and therefore it has an emotional connection before I’ve even watched it.
So yeah, let’s see if it’s as emotional as the trailer suggests.
New Orleans Saints legend Steven Gleason has retired from American Football in 2008 and is celebrating his life with partner Michel. Three years later he has had issues with twitching in his upper body and he is diagnosed with ALS, a motor neuron disease that gradually prevents the sufferer from moving and has a life expectancy of 2-5 years. Six weeks later he and Michel discover that they’re going to be parents.
They keep the disease hidden for a while but it soon feels very real once a swimming race results in Steve needing help to get out of the lake. The thought soon enters his end that he may never be able to have a proper conversation with his child as his ability to talk continues to deteriorate.
Is it as good as I had hoped?
There a lot of sports documentaries out there, such as “Born Strong”, the only film this year I’ve given the approved stamp to this year, that do a decent job but don’t get you emotionally invested to the point where you feel every conceivable emotion, but “Gleason” does this so well that I’ll let you know in advance that it is going to get the seemingly rare stamp.
This is mainly down to Steven being such a likeable guy. He reminds me a lot of Chris Hemsworth in his personality. I love that he doesn’t get bitter about his situation, and whilst he does feel sad, it’s mainly down to the strain the situation of having ALS and a young child is putting on his wife. There is a genuine emotional connection to Steve that it draws you in. Whilst I was able to take myself away from the documentary to check my phone every now and then, I never found myself wanting to stop watching fully, which is a very rare thing these days.
There is a scene where he returns to the stadium for the first time after going public with his ALS diagnosis and he is invited onto the field/pitch to thank the thanks. He’s struggling to walk without support and the emotion involved is electric. It feels like a scene at the end of an emotional movie in which someone has overcome the odds, but this is real life and it feels like one of those defining moments in time, the ‘I was there’ if you will.
The one exceptionally minor criticism I would give for the documentary is that at times, especially towards the end, it becomes exceptionally hard to understand what Steven is saying and whilst I appreciate this gives an accurate portrayal of the disease, for the viewer it is hard to get into context what is being said and therefore some subtitles might have been handy at the point. Again, only a minor point and it’s good for the purposes of giving you an everyday perspective into the disease, but it doesn’t help to put things in context.
“Gleason” is an exceptionally heartfelt documentary about a guy who is very likeable. It captures how difficult it is to not only live with the disease, but also the toll it takes on your loved ones. I love that Steve doesn’t become embittered about his situation, which would be so easy to do and other than the odd understandable moment of depression, he retains his optimism throughout.
It may be slightly overlong (it’s over 110 minutes), but not once was I bored and even though I was able to check my phone on a regular basis, I never felt the need to stop watching.
You might struggle to find this outside of America, but if you can then I would definitely recommend giving it a watch.