Not many people know Selma Blair. She has been, by her own words, “a supporting actress.” And maybe that’s why seeing her stripped raw in her documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair” means so much. In the documentary, she’s the main character — a real, living, breathing person who finally has the camera’s attention. Unfortunately, though, when the camera is on her, it’s not for something funny or happy like her role in “Legally Blonde.” Instead, it’s devastating and honest, because she is showing the audience she handles her Multiple Sclerosis.
What makes “Introducing, Selma Blair” so compelling is that no holds are barred. Honestly, I didn’t know much about MS prior to viewing this documentary but learning about it through Blair’s experience is truly shattering. Blair allows the audience to follow every step of her journey in which she reveals the good and the bad. Viewers get the fun, playful moments of her life, most of which center around her son Arthur, but also the moments of sheer exhaustion, unbearable pain and continual hopelessness. The jarring, abrupt shifts between those extremes provide the most meaningful glimpses into Blair’s life. One moment she could be jumping and laughing as she plays dodgeball with her son and the next moment has her in bed, so tired from playing she cannot move.
The film shifts in tone when it moves from Blair’s day-to-day moments to her progression through her stem cell transplant treatment, from preliminary chemotherapy to engraftment. The cell phone videos of Blair in the hospital, combined with traditional documentary footage, are tear-jerking in a way that few things can be.
We see the emotional effects of the chemo in her visceral sadness and the physical effects of her treatment, the way that her body swells and she feels a pain that overtakes her. The audience is privy to a moving flashback where she explains that she had asked Arthur if there was anything that made him nervous about her treatment, and he had answered that he didn’t want her to lose her hair; she said, “Well then, I’ll just have you cut it, so that it’s not so surprising to you.” After the flashback, “Introducing, Selma Blair” moves to a tender scene of Arthur shaving her head with tendrils of hair encircling them both on the floor.
In another clip, she winks at the camera as she administers her own injections. The camera follows her as she enters the hospital for a period of isolation. There’s a moment where the nurses, holding the stem cells that will be transplanted, are singing and saying a prayer as Blair’s eyes are closed tightly, internally praying alongside them that the transplant will work. These glimpses into her experience — into her life — paint a picture of who she is, what she has gone through and how strong she is for overcoming it all. The audience can never understand her pain, but by viewing this documentary, we are able to educate ourselves on MS and, more importantly, the people who persevere through it.
There isn’t a “happily ever after” once the treatment is over, and this offers a realistic understanding of Blair’s experiences. Following the treatment, she is disheartened that her recovery hasn’t happened in the way she expected.
“I think I thought I was cured,” she says in a voiceover, as she, overwhelmed and crying, struggles to let herself into her hotel room after being discharged. In one of the most honest, melancholy sequences, Blair comes to the realization that her son (who had been living with his father while she was undergoing treatment) could potentially continue to live only with his father: “I don’t feel like I have to hold onto anything anymore,” she sobs. And then the scene cuts to Arthur bringing her flowers — another abrupt shift that only emphasizes her pain.
Every moment of “Introducing, Selma Blair” is unchoreographed. Every moment is painfully real — sometimes so intimate that I felt like the audience should perhaps look away and let her exist without our eyes on her.
The documentary closes with Blair still recovering. “I’m really depressed … I’m really struggling,” she says. “But at the same time, I realize … everyone is.”
She reaches some semblance of closure even if she’s not fully there yet. And when the credits begin to roll, the audience wonders how she’s doing now. We hope that she’s happy and healthy … content in her own existence. The documentary does just as its name suggests: It introduces us to Selma Blair as the person she really is, featuring the good, the bad and everything in between.
Daily Arts Film Beat Editor Sabriya Imami can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.