There’s a point about two-thirds of the way through Introducing, Selma Blair where the titular Selma Blair is recounting her career based on her magazine appearances, including an admittedly unfortunate Seventeen Magazine cover, a stunning Italian Vogue cover, and the People Magazine cover from right after she debuted at the Vanity Fair Oscars party after revealing her multiple sclerosis diagnosis a few months prior. She points to the cover and says “I think that’s what most people now would know me from,” as if we hadn’t seen the first act of this story that recognized her important presence in films like Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde, and Hellboy. It almost made me a bit melancholy to think that perhaps Blair had not fully come to understand the impact that she had on the industry she called home. This seems to come from Blair’s complete lack of ego, something that, given both her past work and current diagnosis, she should be fully entitled to. This is the spirit of a person unbroken by something meant to break people, and it’s that perseverance and drive that makes Blair’s journey in Introducing, Selma Blair so riveting as a viewer.
In October of 2018, actress Selma Blair revealed in an Instagram post that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disorder affecting the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms vary with each person diagnosed with it, but in Blair’s case, mobility and vocal functions become limited by spasms and muscle weakness, with increased mental fatigue and chronic pain. Director Rachel Fleit does not hold back in showing multiple sclerosis in its rawest, most painful form, and refuses to sugarcoat anything surrounding Blair’s experience with the disease. Moments of levity are brought back down with a striking resonance, reminding viewers of just how volatile life with a chronic illness can be. Fleit’s ability to take things minute-by-minute really brings this portrait together as a whole quite effectively.
There’s always been something so imposing about Blair’s presence as an actress, something that always saw her thrive in cold, sometimes intimidating roles (Vivian Kensington in Legally Blonde springs to mind first), but Blair’s offscreen presence is one of charm and humor, helping her to cope with the chronic pain of her condition. For every moment of heartbreaking sorrow that Blair experiences, there is an equal amount of love and light that she radiates in periods where she doesn’t find herself overstimulated or overwhelmed. Whether it’s her obsessions with placing tiny plastic hands on her fingers “to make her boobs and lips look bigger” or her accidental purchase of a vibrator to help massage her spasming muscles, there’s such an appreciation for taking every bit of the lighter moments in life and not feeling like her condition has taken away her right to feel happiness whenever she can. There’s such an indomitable spirit at the center of her story here that might often be shaken, but never is broken. It’s truly a delight to see her relish in pockets of joy, and it’s a contagious feeling when she has such an astute ability to scope those moments out.
There’s a great amount of knowledge I picked up on while watching Introducing, Selma Blair as well, from the symptoms and reality of living with multiple sclerosis, to the seemingly revolutionary (I only can speak for her personal experience, not of the treatment as a whole) treatment for the disease that is a stem cell transplant. While the film does chronicle this progress, it doesn’t shy away from portraying the very real and taxing side effects that come from the treatment. Particularly disheartening is the film’s portrayal of her treatment within the medical system as a woman, from her very delayed diagnosis to her doctors at her consultation for stem cell treatment suggesting it might just be all in her head. Rage and anger pulsed through my being as I began to think that this was happening to a woman of immense privilege, and how women who aren’t Hollywood actresses with a documentary crew would be questioned and denigrated by the healthcare system. It’s one of those things you know is a problem, but to see it so brazenly up close is a horrifying reminder.
There’s not a ton of flash with Introducing, Selma Blair, but it ends up working to the film’s benefit in the long run. This is not a documentary that needs to be hitting every mark with a clean, polished sense of itself, because life, particularly life as unpredictable as Blair’s has become, never is. This is a raw, stripped down, intimate look at the physical, mental, and spiritual toll that a chronic illness can take on a person, and how there is always life to be found within the incredibly difficult, often traumatizing moments of terror. It’s a wrenching watch at points, but also one that has touching, genuine moments of light that you just can’t find outside of real life.
Screening during the 2021 SXSW Film Festival beginning March 16th, 2021.
Debuting on Discovery+ in 2021.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.