SXSW ONLINE 2021 Review: “Introducing, Selma Blair”

Year: 2021
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Rachel Fleit
Star: Selma Blair

By Joan Amenn

“Introducing, Selma Blair,” the SXSW Jury Awards Winner of Special Jury Recognition for Exceptional Intimacy in Storytelling, is a deeply engrossing, courageously revealing journey of one woman’s struggle with a debilitating disease. Selma Blair (TV’s “Anger Management,” “American Crime Story”) is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as she faces being a single mother, an alienated daughter, and a former fashion model and actress diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. This film is not for the faint-hearted, but Blair is no shrinking violet. Behind her delicate features is a core of steel and a kind heart, even if she has to learn to love herself more as part of her healing process.

Rachel Fleit does not let the camera look away from any of Blair’s troubles, but she never strays into the maudlin. From the physical pain of unresponsive limbs to the lingering emotional pain of an unsupportive parent, Blair invites the viewer in to share her life. Her honesty, humor, and hardheaded unwillingness to surrender to despair engages the viewer in her decision to try a grueling course of treatment. It’s almost too much to watch all she endures, but her deep love for her son and her innate sense of the ridiculous makes the audience root for her.

At one point in the film, Blair looks through fashion magazines that featured her in various glamorous poses. The film doesn’t belabor this, but it’s obvious that while photography once created a fantasy world for her to inhabit, a film camera now strips away all artifice to reveal her true self. To her credit, she comes across as someone who is not in the least “Hollywood.” By her own admission, she never was concerned about being a great actress, and now that her life has changed drastically, she doesn’t seem to miss her career much at all.

However, her appearance at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party set all of Hollywood on fire. She was stunning in a striped gown, matching cape and, adding a regal note, a cane. The film shows photographers so moved by her dignity and grace that they pause in their shooting to allow her all the time she needs to adjust herself to pose comfortably and then leave the staging area. It’s one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes in a documentary full of staggering poignancy.

“Introducing, Selma Blair” is the perfect title for a film that wants you to know its subject as someone you would welcome as a friend to share tea and gossip with, and you get the sense that Selma herself would welcome you, too. What a wonderful door it opens to all people with disabilities to be seen as so much more than their limitations. Blair found a great portrait painter in Fleit, and one hopes that there will be more chapters in her life that the two will tell together.  

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