Steve Gleason was an unlikely football star: too small to do what he did, he did it anyway, for the New Orleans Saints. It was the NFL that brought him to New Orleans but it was falling in love with a free-spirited local girl named Michel that kept him there beyond his retirement in 2008. They soon found themselves expecting a baby, which would be a happy occasion  except that about 6 weeks prior Steve was diagnosed with ALS.

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a neurodegenerative disease where the nerve cells that control your muscles die. The brain can’t talk to muscles, leading to a loss of mobility, loss of speech and eventually the ability movie_headerto breathe. Everything is still right in your head though, so you’re still smart and alert and you see everything happening to you, helpless to do anything about it. There is no cure. It is fatal, and will likely be so within 2-5 years of diagnosis.

Within months, Steve is walking and talking with noticeable problems. As Michel’s belly grows with their baby inside, he starts keeping a video diary so that one day his unborn child may know him.

The documentary is bittersweet; the Gleason family experiences highs and lows, and no matter what we hear the clock ticking. As hard as it is for us to watch him deteriorate so quickly on film, to see that hardship mirrored on his wife, Michel’s, face, is just agony. Steve seems determined to share his struggle honestly, even when that means admitting that he’s trying to live up to this banner of ‘inspiration’ and ‘hero’ that the media has ascribed to him and not always knowing that means.

He does, however, establish the Gleason Foundation, which focuses on service and equipment. He felt that much of what ALS takes away, like speech and mobility, technology can give back. And while that’s true to an extent, it can’t quite account for everything: not time, not life. But the foundation gives him purpose, and he’s certainly in the position to bring awareness and to raise money for this disease.

It’s sucky to watch this movie. It’s hard. But as Steve himself says, it’s sad but it’s not all sad. And maybe it’s those moments of not-sad that we need to attend to: the hope, the faith, the optimism, the acceptance, and certainly the closeness and love of this family.  And as difficult as it is, it’s also an amazing piece of film. It’s raw and emotional and real. As a famous athlete and the face on a poster on many bedroom walls, many would have called him a hero. But giving a voice to those who have lost them? That’s heroic. His wife’s caregiving? That’s heroic. This film has the power to provoke the hero in all of us. I can’t recommend it enough.




17 thoughts on “Gleason

  1. Melanie Baron

    I think I cried intermittently the whole way through… Such a tough documentary to watch but very real. Watching both of them go was heartbreaking but his wife… wow… I could feel the love and despair she had, especially in the end… Such a powerful documentary! I couldn’t agree more with your review!


      1. Harlon

        Thanks, I must have missed that review. That’s how I felt too. I don’t like biopics so I liked how they focused in on something specific, wanting to take control of the funeral but not actually having any power.
        The soundtrack was killer and I love seeing a movie where I think it would not have been as good if someone else played the lead role. Great performance. Subtle.


  2. Courtney Young

    This one hit home really hard for me, because as a local New Orleanian, Gleason is a hometown hero. About a month ago, I was eating tacos on a patio, and he rolled out of pinkberry next door with his wife and son. I was just in awe to see them interacting from screen to in person. Michel was closer to me, so I told her I loved their documentary. She was so humbled and thankful for the support. Great people, great documentary…I hope the Academy recognizes it.


  3. Pingback: Top 10 for 2016 | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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