Of the actresses that came to attention in the early aughts, Selma Blair is arguably one of the few that was known more for the “type” she played rather than her celebrity off-screen. She played prim and pretty, with a dash of darkness, in films like Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde with supporting character aplomb. And while she graced plenty of magazine covers, there was never truly a sense of who she was outside of her work. The documentary Introducing, Selma Blair finally reveals the acerbic, funny, resourceful woman underneath the Hollywood gaze as she endures the pain and uncertainty of an experimental stem cell transplant to improve her debilitating multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Directed by first-time documentarian Rachel Fleit, Blair allows cameras to exist alongside her as she navigates her once cozy Los Angeles abode throughout 2019. The lush, multi-tiered home is quickly revealed to now be a beautiful series of obstacles for the single mother/actress diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018.
In a stellar introduction, a handheld camera frames the relatively spry and extremely witty Blair in her bedroom, putting on her Norma Desmond-like makeup for a talking head interview. As the camera and actress transition to her backyard, she is animated and limber telling her life story. All is well until Blair’s emotional support dog hops away, and in the span of a second, Blair is hit by waves of spasms and a complete inability to articulate with ease anymore. Brought to sobbing tears, we are made witness to what living with MS looks like in all of its harrowing distress.
Fleit and Blair set the tone with that opening as the actress reveals what her existence is now, how it evolved to this point, and how treatment has both helped and failed her ability to function normally. Using a mix of intimate handheld footage interspersed with clips from her films for context and intimate talking heads from those in her small circle of helpers and friends, the doc is well aware that the most compelling focal point is Blair herself. The camera can’t help but frame her naturally photogenic face beautifully, but the realities of living with chronic pain bring out Blair’s true self in a way we’ve never seen her in movie or TV roles. With the disease making it impossible anymore for Blair to lean on the icy demeanor that was once her cinematic forte, we get to witness the woman she’s been holding back, and she’s beyond impressive.
As with any person facing a turning point in their life, the doc allows Blair to work out in real time some lifelong issues she’s forced to face, like her dysfunctional, formative relationship with her mother, her admitted lack of ambition with her career, and the fear of not getting to see her son grow up. With her decision to undertake an expensive and still unproven transplant in Chicago, Blair hands off her beloved son to his father and closes up her home to travel for weeks of isolating medical procedures that will essentially reboot her entire immune system from zero in hopes of restoring mobility and the acute inflammation of the disease.
The camera is a fly on the wall for almost all of the steps of her prep, transplant, and recovery, documenting the pain, fear, and moments of peace she embraces in facing down her mortality. But all the while, she’s also staggeringly funny. Blair’s gallows humor and lightning-fast riffs on the indignities of the disease make her all the more endearing as she navigates the schizophrenic nature of her new normal with MS. Allowing the camera to see all parts of herself isn’t just personally brave, but more importantly, it’s a brutally honest exposé for those who will follow in her footsteps. As they say, the fear of the unknown is half the battle, but Blair’s unflinching portrayal of this process shines a light for future patients who will be faced with it, now armed with the depth and breadth of what’s in store. It’s vanguard medical anthropology made accessible now to everyone interested to know.
It’s as powerful as documentary filmmaking can get.
While Blair’s outcome is far from a fairy tale resolution, there’s hope and inspiration from her journey that will be transformative for many. And for the actress who comes out the other side wiser, more grateful, and centered, it’s as powerful as documentary filmmaking can get.
Introducing, Selma Blair is a deeply impactful documentary that works on many levels. It functions as a coming out party for the real woman behind the roles that have mostly defined her public persona, and as a “gloves off” informational journey about living with, and trying to combat the symptoms of, multiple sclerosis. The doc accomplishes both with humor, honesty, dignity, and a staggering level of vulnerability from Blair.
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