As an actress, Selma Blair has never been the lead of a movie.
Until now, that is: the actress takes center stage in “Introducing, Selma Blair,” a genuinely touching and unflinching look at her ongoing bout with multiple sclerosis.
Blair was diagnosed with MS in August 2018. She announced it to the public a few months later the way we all share things these days: on Instagram. “Introducing” picks up from there, documenting Blair’s experimental stem cell treatment and following her through the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of her mother.
Blair — her friends and family know her as Blair, her middle name at birth — is a brassy, outsized, open subject. She doesn’t put up a front for the camera: we see her holding it together and we see her falling apart, often within the span of a few breaths.
She showed both those sides at an Oscar party in 2019, arriving on the red carpet in a fabulous dress by Ralph & Russo, accented with a chic black cane. Following her diagnosis a few months prior, it was her grand public coming out party. She was stunning, all old Hollywood glamour, and her courage — appearing before all those cameras, showing the world she would not let her disease get the best of her — was inspiring.
But on that same red carpet, she became suddenly overwhelmed, and the moment got to her. It was all too much. She needed help. And the paparazzi, rather than exploiting the moment, collectively put their cameras down and allowed her to take a moment to compose herself. It was a human moment, a relatable moment, a rare instance of the good shining through. And it was an example of how people are rooting for Selma Blair.
Director Rachel Fleit opens with Blair at her house in Los Angeles as she prepares to go on camera. Blair is self-aware, funny and free, a natural in front of the lens. She sits down for an interview and discusses her condition, her therapy dog on her lap. But as soon as the dog scoots away, Blair’s speech becomes broken, the words struggling to find their way out, a sign of how fragile her state is. Any change in her environment can trigger a reaction, and her frustration and her fear with her situation is both palpable and relatable.
“Introducing” doesn’t go back and tell Blair’s full story, but we learn enough, especially about her fraught relationship with her mother. Blair speaks of the dismissive ways her mom would pooh-pooh Blair’s career accomplishments, and the resentment that caused between them. Blair — a mother herself, to her young son Arthur — still loved her mother deeply, but like most things in the movie, there’s no time or place for sugarcoating them to make them go down easier.
From the film, Blair emerges a figure of strength and vulnerability, of honesty and openness. There are specifics about her treatment on which Fleit focuses but overall the film is more about the journey of the person at its center. And that person, undoubtedly, is a star.
‘INTRODUCING, SELMA BLAIR’
Not rated: language, nudity
Where to watch: In theaters Friday and streaming on Discovery+ Oct. 22