Review: ‘Gleason’

Hot Docs 2016

3 mins read

(USA, 110 min.)
Dir. Clay Tweel
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)


Gleason is a remarkable feat. This doc by Clay Tweel, the director of last year’s hilarious oddity Finders Keepers, invites viewers into the home of former NFL player Steve Gleason and his wife Michel as they embark on a new and unexpected chapter of their lives. Their willingness to share the few intimate and personal moments they potentially have left is inspiring and undeniably touching.

Tweel’s previous film deals with an eccentric battle over a severed foot and while his new doc disarmingly depicts Gleason’s loss of control of his body to ALS, any efforts to make a case for authorship essentially ends there as Gleason is as far from Finders Keepers as one can get. The footage of Gleason’s struggle pulls no punches as it shows an athlete knocked from his perch in his prime and rendered inert. Images of Gleason’s pain, including one arduous effort to defecate, afford some of the frankest depictions of day-to-day living one could capture.

This emotional portrait of Gleason’s struggle with a terrible disease—while raising a newborn son, no less, as Michel learns shortly after Steve’s diagnosis that she is expecting their first child—shows a family’s strength in the face of adversity. Especially stirring are excerpts from Gleason’s video diary as he records messages to his then-unborn child and shares a father’s wisdom to the son who will learn to speak long after ALS strips Steve of his voice.

The film effectively shows how Gleason takes none of his privilege to use technology to restore his voice and better his quality of life for granted. He has become an advocate for people with ALS and has created a charity to bring technology and opportunities to people with the disease. The film’s true titan, though, might be Michel, as Tweel shows her cope with daily exhaustion while caring for Steve and their son, Rivers, whose birth provides a touching centrepiece to the film. Gleason, while emotionally exhausting, is ultimately a moving tale of heroism and selfless love.

Gleason screens:
-Saturday, May 7 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 9:00 PM


Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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