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Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in Two Pieces movie review (2024)

Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in Two Pieces movie review (2024)

And that’s what makes the second half, subtitled “Now,” a masterstroke on Neville’s part. After 90 minutes of photos and clips, the second part of “Steve!” opens with Martin himself walking into his kitchen, chit-chatting and telling jokes, almost mocking the very fact that a movie is being made about him. Ending the first half in 1980, Neville employs an entirely different format for the next 40+ years of Steve Martin’s life, a more free-form conversational approach with Martin and friends like Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Short, Tina Fey, Lorne Michaels, Eric Idle, and many more. Martin is working on a cartoon book filled with anecdotes about his career, and that’s the throughline for this half, a film that’s calmer and more observational, sometimes just content to film Martin riding his bike on a nice day. It also focuses heavily on friendship and collaboration with Martin noting that he will probably retire when Short does. They’re a package deal now on stage and on “Only Murders in the Building.”

There are many joys to be found in the second half of “Steve!” too—I could watch Seinfeld interview Martin about comedy for literal hours, and the process scenes of Martin & Short writing jokes are a gem. However, four decades of Martin’s career is a lot to cram into a feature length, and a lot of his work gets dismissed or ignored in a way that might frustrate some fans. After a relatively long chapter on the failure of “Pennies from Heaven,” and how Martin responded to it, I was hoping for a similar unpacking of classics like “Roxanne,” “L.A. Story,” “Bowfinger,” and maybe even Martin’s excellent novels. The truth is there’s too much brilliance here. And Neville chooses to spend a great deal of time on WASP, Martin’s 1994 play that clearly includes some of the writer’s biography within it, even staging scenes from it with Finn Wittrock. Using Martin’s work as a key to unpack his life is wise, but I would argue you could do it just as easily with so many of his other projects about outsiders seeking approval too.

How does a deeply empathetic filmmaker like Morgan Neville approach the life of a man who always seemed to keep his true emotions behind a curtain? It’s heartwarming and even moving to see where Steve Martin is today, comfortable with his emotions enough to cry when reading the “Planes, Trains, & Automobiles” script, and obviously enriched by being a father late in life. Comedian, actor, writer, father, husband, friend—Steve Martin is all these things, and more. Of course, Morgan Neville had to make two completely different films to try to tell his story. Honestly, he could probably make three or four and still just scratch the surface.

Premieres on Apple TV+ on March 29th.

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