Steve Martin: A documentary in 2 pieces review – "A deeply affectionate but overstuffed portrait"

 Steve Martin documentary.
Steve Martin documentary.

From the "wild and craaazy guy" of the '70s to the grumpy old guy leading huge streaming hit Only Murders in the Building, Steve Martin has reinvented himself with extraordinary success for nearly 50 years.

Unsurprisingly, Morgan Neville’s baggy, deeply affectionate, access-all-areas documentary tries and fails bravely to cram Martin’s comedy megastardom, his 55 movies, his authored stage plays and platinum albums into an overstuffed film of two unwieldy halves.

Neville, who excelled at telling performer’s stories in the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom (2013), delivers a cracking, archive-packed account in the first part, following Martin’s  rise from teen Disneyland magician to stadium-filling comic idol.

Using a revealing collage of home movies and onstage clips running from college gigs to Vegas openings (Elvis popped by to complement his ‘oblique sense of humour’), he shows Martin completely reshaping stand-up with the ‘simply silly’ act that offered a sly commentary on the absurdity of performing.

But trying to capture Martin’s complexity as an artist (including his world-class art collection, his plays and New Yorker essays) is a task that defeats the film’s bitty, over-indulgent second half. Martin’s many movies, whether his ‘funnyman’ period (The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid ) or his ‘professional dad’ era (Parenthood, Father of the Bride, etc) are reduced to quick anecdotes.

Following Martin slavishly as he rehearses with Martin Short, creates a cartoon memoir, or bikes around LA reminiscing, the film mistakes access for interest. It’s intimate, yes, but not insightful, and is sorely missing the smart analysis that Martin’s many-phased movie career deserves.

STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces is available on Apple TV+ from March 29.

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