“Gleason” manages to be sad and inspirational as well as being a call to action without disrupting or manipulating Steve Gleason’s story.
Steve Gleason played in the National Football League for 9 years as a part of the New Orleans Saints, but is known best for blocking a punt against the Atlanta Falcons in the Saints’ first game back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a play that came to signify hope in the reconstruction of the city. Just 3 years after his playing career, at the age of 34, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS and given a life expectancy of two to five years. Weeks later, Steve and his wife Michel discovered that Michel was pregnant with their first child. This film depicts the years after that, assembling roughly 4 years of film, highlighted by Gleason’s personal video journals made as a gift for his incoming son, and more importantly as a way for the two to have a closer-to-normal relationship.
As the years go on, Gleason’s disease intensifies and his physical condition deteriorates to the point when he can no longer hold his son or take care of his own basic functions, as we see him slowly lose his ability to speak or move on his own. The obvious toll all this takes on his wife Michel Varisco, who is simultaneously trying to raise their child Rivers, is nearly as heartbreaking. The way that ALS takes these two formally charismatic, free-spirited, happily married individuals and turns them into shells of themselves puts ALS into a much better perspective than any scientific term or statistic could.
Still, seeing this film is not only a tear-inducing affair, as we see Gleason take major steps toward repairing a dysfunctional relationship with his own father, Mike. Audiences also get to see Gleason travel the world with his wife, taking control of his life and happiness while he still can, a truly inspirational site. Family friend and caregiver Blair Casey also adds humor to the film as a tool he uses to make Gleason more comfortable and also to deal with Rivers. Perhaps most significantly, the film shows us the construction of Gleason’s “Team Gleason” charity, which works hard at first to provide technology and equipment that helps those affected by ALS to be as comfortable and in control as possible, and then eventually moves also towards finding treatments for this illness.
It would have been very easy to turn this film into a cause, or a tragedy, or into an uplifting story, but by letting Steve Gleason be the main teller of his own story, Clay Tweel allowed this film to be all of that and more in a much more genuine way.
Gleason is definitely a film I would recommend everyone watch when it is released in theaters nationwide on July 29, 2016.