Monday, April 1, 2024

Doc Watch: Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces (2024)

Watched:  03/30/2024
Format:  Apple+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Morgan Neville
Selection:  Jamie

I remember back in high school going to see L.A. Story, written by and starring Steve Martin, and getting that Steve Martin was going through some sort of sea-change in what he wanted to be in as an actor.  I'd always known him as a movie star, but certainly associated him with silly/ smart movies like The Jerk, but I'd also seen Roxanne and got that maybe he was doing something with his career now that was less goofy (but, arguably, pretty smart) than Three Amigos.  

And then I think it was around the release of Novocaine that I heard him on the radio (NPR) and got the idea that, oh...  Steve Martin is a weirdly smart guy.  And he's smart in that way that I think he probably just doesn't really connect well to a lot of people - which is the thesis of the doc, one supposes.

If you generally like Steve Martin, I think this is a good way to spend some time.  I'm not overly interested in the personal lives of most modern entertainers, and this is definitely a curated peek into Martin's life, including interviews with friends and his current wife.  It's a collection of showbiz personalities - and you get the feeling Tina Fey really was holding herself back - and then artists, poets and others in Martins orbit who do seem to be his actual friends.  Which is, frankly, unusual for one of these types of docs.  

For those of us under a certain age, finding out during our youths that movie-star Steve Martin used to do stand-up was a bit of a revelation.  I think I sorted it out in late middle school while watching early-season SNL.  Part 1, Then, tracks Martin's path from suburban kid in Southern California to the end of his stand-up career, which was 1980 (I was five, so I was not following the latest in stand-up back then).  Part 2, Now, follows the post-stand-up era through Martin's movie career, and into his modern phase of family-man, art collector, stage-performer w/ Martin Short and television star.  

The doc delves into Martin's collection of art, finding a family life late in life, his issues with his own family and how that impacted art and life, and all the things you'd expect.  And, I think, paints a clear picture why he stepped away from stand-up in 1980.  

It's an odd doc as the central point about Martin not connecting super well with people seems to leave him talking only about things he wants to discuss, and feels like the result of a lot of therapy.  And that's fine.  I don't want dirt on Steve Martin.  But the narrative and edit does tie its themes together very well - arguably at the expense of not dwelling on some more recent painful topics, such as pointing to the "end" of Steve's film career years and several movies before it actually sort of wrapped up.  That's a decision to just not talk about years and years worth of life and films, some of which were reflective of his more thoughtful approach, and some were Pink Panther movies.

I am not dragging Martin or his career, but I am sort of squinting at the framing of events by the doc.  It is weird he picks Mixed Nuts (which they say was not good, and I will heartily agree) as some endpoint.  And maybe for him it was.  But that's 30 years ago.

One thing Martin is also doing now is working with artist Harry Bliss on comic strips.  Writers and artists often collaborate on strips, but I was really struck by how close to how Harvey Pekar told life stories via comic strips and his choice of material while the strips were discussed.

If you picked up on either how well Steve Martin played some characters (see: Planes, Trains and Automobiles) or what he wrote himself (LA Story or Roxanne) I think it becomes clear that he's also a guy working his way through life who was expressing himself more than we realized all along.  

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