- Jared Huizenga
Gleason’ Packs an Emotional Wallop
Answer: “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “Brian’s Song” and “Remember the Titans.”
Question: “What are the three movies that make Jared cry like a baby every time he watches them?”
After only one viewing, I feel safe in adding “Gleason” to that list of esteemed tearjerkers.
Michel Varisco, Steve Gleason, and Rivers Gleason. (Photo by Suzanne Alford. Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)
The documentary details the recent life and times of former New Orleans Saints captain Steve Gleason as he goes from gridiron warrior to off-field warrior waging a personal battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (a.k.a. ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
The film combines a series of Gleason’s homemade video journals with footage shot by documentarians.
Gleason’s journals detail his 2011 diagnosis; the news that shortly after that diagnosis, his wife, Michel, finds out she’s pregnant with their first child; and his first-person messages to his son, prior to and following his birth. (Think Michael Keaton in “My Life” only real.)
The documentarian’s footage shows the gradual onset of the disease and later how quickly things can turn and progress. It also details the strain put on the marriage, Gleason’s relationship with God, his relationship with his father and the physical, mental and emotional challenges he encounters as he goes from world class athlete to being bound to a wheelchair and kept alive by machines.
Perhaps more importantly, the film shows Gleason’s will to live and make a difference in the lives of other ALS patients through his charity, Team Gleason. It shows his will to live to be there for his son, Rivers. It shows his desire to be the husband he always wanted to be to Michel.
Steve Gleason, and Rivers Gleason. (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)
To say “Gleason” is an emotional rollercoaster would be an understatement. One moment you see the absolute joy in Steve and Michel as they dance at their wedding or when they welcome their son to the world. The next they’re struggling to not fall apart due to the stress placed on the marriage. First you see Steve block a punt in the Saints’ first game back in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and then you witness him needing the help of multiple people to accomplish simple tasks like getting in and out of bed and going to the bathroom.
Despite its heavy subject matter, bleak moments (and there are a lot of them) and repeated, brutal emotional gut punches, “Gleason” somehow remains beautiful from beginning to end.
While thematically beautiful, “Gleason” isn’t always pretty. The family bares all and there are very few subjects that are off-limits. It’s raw and it’s emotionally draining. Aside from anger, I’m not an overly emotional person, but I spent about 75 percent of the movie with tears in my eyes and/or a lump in my throat.
“Gleason” serves as a reminder to be thankful for the gifts you’ve been given, to never take life – or the people in your life – for granted and to live life to its fullest.
★★★★½ of ★★★★★