Directed by: Clay Tweel
There is something about documentaries that chronicle, and in many cases, challenge the human spirit and push it to its brink that lead them to be the most affecting movie experiences possible. It’s visceral, emotional, and in the best cases, put you through the ringer leaving you a better person for having experienced and sat with it. This may sound hyperbolic, but one viewing of Clay Tweel’s documentary “Gleason” and you’ll understand that these descriptors and an understatement.
Shortly after retiring from the NFL, New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason is diagnosed with ALS. Even more impactful is Steve’s wife has just found out that she is pregnant with their first Child. Unsure of when he will lose the ability to communicate (and trying to treat the disease itself), Gleason sets out to make videos for his son to teach him everything he can before he loses the ability to speak.
Make no mistake: “Gleason” is a tough watch. Him and his family go through a lot of intense emotions and grieve the life and person he experienced as used to be. It isn’t an easy road for Gleason either as he struggles to adjust to his faculties which he loses bits of daily. But beyond all of this, Steve’s purpose becomes renewed. His focus shifts to helping others in his situation and he becomes influential in ways he may not have imagined.
There’s an immense amount of footage here that is artfully and carefully strung together for a cohesive narrative. There are some awful things that maintain levity by the Gleason’s who are a funny bunch and will go for a laugh even in a dark, difficult moment. (Steve’s line when he is having a bathroom issue is laugh out loud hilarious). It’s a brave thing to let a camera crew into your life. It’s even braver when it is during the most trying time this family has likely ever had.
Tears are almost certain to be shed, and while It may not always be the easiest thing to watch, “Gleason” is one of the most profoundly moving film experiences of the year thus far. It shows a man faced with unbelievable tragedy, moving forward for the sake of his wife, his children, his family, and a population of people who see him as a role model. It’s one of the years first must watch films and one to look out for come award season.