Only a few weeks after former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, his wife, Michel, learned she was pregnant with their first child. Knowing he had limited time before the degenerative disease robbed him of his mobility and speech, Gleason set out to chronicle his life in video diaries, framed as a message to his then-unborn son. Director Clay Tweel has deftly cut four years of those videos, along with other footage, into an inspirational and unflinching look at the devastating effects, physical and emotional, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Gleason has a kind of Chris Pratt charm in his frank and often funny video diaries, whether he’s reflecting on his strained relationship with his religious father or bluntly charting his weakening state. His attitude is, of course, inspirational, and even though he was already a Louisiana hero for his performance in the Saints’ first home game after Hurricane Katrina, he launches a charity to provide speech technology and other services to those with ALS. But more than anything, the film examines one man’s shocking deterioration, and Tweel doesn’t shy away from the messy, ugly aspects of ALS—for instance, Gleason’s incontinence or the growing cracks in his marriage. It’s gut-wrenching to watch this young couple reduced to resentment and almost wordless arguments, but the pair’s perseverance is uplifting. The result is a candid testament to not only Gleason himself but the many people who love him. B+