Review Featuring, Selma Blair [HBO Max]
Director: Rachel Flet | Time to play: 94 minutes | Year: 2021
Selma Blair played her most famous film roles in cruel intentions, legally blonde in hell boy before being diagnosed with the chronic disease MS (multiple sclerosis) at the age of 46. Introducing, Selma Blair follows the actress for the most part in 2019, as she undergoes a major stem cell transplant. The documentary is moving and provides insight into the potential impact of the debilitating disease, but is somewhat littered with misplaced musical choices.
Blair is still active as an actress and fashion icon when she was diagnosed with the disease in 2018. MS is a disease of the central nervous system, the symptoms of which can present and develop very differently from person to person. Among other things, Blair’s ability to speak is affected: “it’s not because of you, it’s because of MS,” she tries to make it understandable in a difficult moment. It is the first of many scenes in which Blair is visibly suffering from the effects of her illness.
If a person looks so vulnerable on camera, exploitation is lurking. But Blair makes it clear at the beginning of the documentary why he accepts the recordings. Where she couldn’t deal with her feelings at an earlier stage because she was going through a very difficult time, she now wants to help as many people as possible who can get support from her story. Blair’s relationship with the camera has taken on a new and complex dimension: she’s been acting and posing for years, but since her diagnosis, any overstimulation (read: anything outside of a sheltered home atmosphere) can exacerbate the symptoms of EM.
The documentary is stark and confrontational, because Blair’s footage is beyond any suggestion of pretense. “This doesn’t look good. I don’t look mentally healthy,” the actress says in the first opening scene. The line between imagery and reality is much thinner than during her breakout years, when Blair, in her own words, served primarily to “make the main character stand out.” side is Introducing, Selma Blair as well as a disguised reaction to her ‘past life’ as an actress: if she could do it again, she would have made different decisions.
Documentary filmmaker Rachel Fleit takes a tactful approach to Blair’s illness. Viewers unfamiliar with MS are given plenty of context, and when the planned stem cell transplant begins, the downsides and uncertainties are not underestimated. Partly because of this, the film is not a traditional survival drama, in which a serious illness ultimately leads to the desired cure. This is especially important in the case of MS, because the disease is still considered incurable despite the existence of advanced interventions. Also, not all patients are eligible for treatment.
unfortunately has Introducing, Selma Blair there’s one major shortcoming, that the movie plays tricks throughout the runtime: every time Blair makes herself more vulnerable, there’s quiet (later ambient, too) piano music, which feels manipulative, especially due to repeated use. At other times, when the actress shows the theatrical side of herself, the subdued but soulful accompaniment abruptly gives way to more playful sounds, as if we’re watching a performance that could use a few more viewers.
The music guides and even feels a bit stigmatizing; the latter will be absolutely unintentional, but in that case the creators have still underestimated the possible effects of their musical choices. Selma Blair (re)presents herself as a woman who, especially in a disabling condition, wants to be fully appreciated. The film would have done it a great favor if the music had been used more sparingly.
Introducing, Selma Blair can be seen in hbo max.