Rated R, 111 minutes
The uplifting, inspiring new documentary "Gleason" is one of the year's most touching films. It tells the remarkable story of former New Orleans safety Steve Gleason as he documents his diagnosis and struggle with ALS and becoming a new father at the same time. Directed by Clay Tweel, it originally started as a video diary for his unborn son to give him an idea of what he was like before and during his struggle with the debilitating disease, which would ultimately rob him of his physical and mental capabilities within a couple of years, not to mention of his ability to be a normal father. As he and his wife Michel have their son Rivers, "Gleason" gives an intimate portrait of what it's like living with the disease and the unique journey they face. Funny, touching, and at times emotionally raw, "Gleason" will give you a different perspective of how ALS changes every facet of your life and family, exploring how faith, relationships and parenthood all interweave with this life-changing disease. Gleason, best-known for the blocked punt in 2006 for the Saints in the first game at the New Orleans Superdome following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and who retired from Pro Football in 2008, began documenting his ALS journey early for his unborn son in 2011, and you see his devastating progression with the disease from the first moments his wife notices changes in his movements to changes in his speech to using a breathing machine and technology that allows him to speak digitally through a computer. In terms of this type of genre, it pulls few surprises, though it's remarkably unsentimental, funny and realistic, yet no shortage of touching moments: including a couple of faith-related discussions with his Dad, interviewing Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, to starting his own foundation and gifting fellow ALS patient's with trips (one of the first, a trip to Italy, is among the film's most emotional moments) that will require you to have plenty of tissues on hand. I wanted to know more of Gleason's backstory with his wife, any connection between football and his disease and more of his relationship with his Mom and younger brother (who are only briefly seen), but there's an abundance of warm interaction between Gleason and his toddler son Rivers, who inspires an original song from Pearl Jam heard at the end of the film. One of the more relevant sayings from Gleason following his diagnosis is "my future holds more than my past" that helps him to live a full life in spite of his many challenges. Make it a point to see the affecting, satisfying documentary "Gleason," you might be a better person because of it.