Gleason – Film Review
Director: Clay Tweel (as J. Clay Tweel)
Writer: Clay Tweel (as J. Clay Tweel)
Stars: Steve Gleason, Mike Gleason, Scott Fujita
Steve Gleason was never a major star in American Football, but he did have one moment that will always be remembered. He blocked a punt return that lead to a touchdown. This moment won the game for the New Orleans Saints, who were playing their first game back at the Louisiana Superdome, following the events of Hurricane Katrina. It was a moment that will be long remembered by fans of the team, and was a cathartic moment for the state. Steve retired from the game in 2007 at the age of 30. In 2010 he started noticing some unusual symptoms in himself, such as involuntary muscle spasms. He went to a doctor who diagnosed him as having ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Motor Neurone disease. Shortly after this shocking news, his wife Michel became pregnant with their son Rivers, who was born in 2011. This film is pieced together from a series of video diaries he made for his son, as he was unsure how long he would live for, as the usual prognosis for ALS is 2 – 5 years.
The change in Gleason from a strong and physical athlete to the wheelchair bound patient couldn’t be more dramatic. This was a man that made his living out of his physical attributes. Despite being small in stature, he was an intense player that gave everything to his sport. He met his wife Michel while he was still playing. She was another free spirit, a wide eyed and fun young woman, and the two were obviously deeply in love. The change in their relationship from equals and lovers to patient and full time nurse is difficult viewing. While wedding vows do call for ‘sickness and in health’ no one quite expects such a difficult transition to occur. These changes obviously lead to many arguments between the two, and it would be impossible to keep your spirits consistently high through these challenges.
Gleason has done much to raise awareness of the illness and started his own foundation called Team Gleason. He used his celebrity to raise funds and help others suffering from it. His own battle with the illness is tough viewing and to see him reduced to wheelchair bound and having to use a computer to speak is quite a transition. The film is largely a linear account of the changes in his life, and shows his steady decline. The use of home video footage makes the account seem very personal and does not pull its punches, showing the viewer all elements. It’s a film that will make you aware of how easily your life can change and that nothing is guaranteed.