The documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair” presents a bracingly relatable version of an often all-too-artificial event: a performer navigating the process of reinvention. Change came to the actress Selma Blair involuntarily, when she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system, in August 2018. She went public with her illness with an Instagram post in October of that year.
Blair’s initial announcement was candid, detailing the initial apathy she received from medical professionals, and she offered generous thanks to the friends — some famous and some not — who encouraged her to seek help. At the time, Blair, now 49, was best known for her supporting roles in several of the most approachable and entertaining Hollywood movies of the last 20 years. This familiarity lent to her remarkably frank post the quality of reading an update from an old friend.
Her decisions following her public announcement remained consistent with this initial burst of sincerity. Blair continued to publicly document her illness on Instagram. She attended red carpets with a jeweled cane. She offered interviews, permitting journalists to show her disruptions of speech and movement. She was in turn glamorous and clumsy, funny and mournful.
The documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair” expands the existing record of Blair’s life into a coherent, feature-length account. The film begins in 2019, after the initial cycle of media attention has passed. The director, Rachel Fleit, follows Blair at home for over a year, her camera watching in vérité style as the actress contemplates the aftermath of her diagnosis and plans ahead for life with a disability.
At the start of filming in 2019, Blair was preparing for an experimental medical treatment that would combine chemotherapy and stem cell transplants to repair her immune system. When the procedures begin, the movie follows her into the hospital, incorporating video diaries from Blair in convalescence.
The greatest asset of the film is its ability to simulate the intimacy of disclosure, and Blair’s comfort with the camera — her actress-y will to entertain — makes her a uniquely endearing subject. The forthrightness that has become the signature of her public persona is on full display; she treats the camera as if it were a trusted friend.
In some of the film’s most touching sequences, Blair allows the filmmakers to watch as she plays with her son, her jolting movements at once a part of the fun, and evidence of her physical state. When he is out of the picture, she shares her worries about how her visible vulnerability might affect her child. She jokes, she weeps, she cries out in pain.
The movie does not address all aspects of Blair’s life. There is little discussion of her career, and no mention of how she affords the extravagant home and the medical treatments that have provided her with relief through the worst days of her illness. What this human interest story offers instead is a simple and sympathetic portrait of a captivating character. Curiously, the career supporting actress Selma Blair has never before seemed like such a star.
Introducing, Selma Blair
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters. Also available on Discovery+ beginning Oct. 21.