STEVE! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces / Review

STEVE! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces / Review
©Part 2. Steve Martin in “STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces,” premiering March 29, 2024 on Apple TV+.


He once played “The Man with Two Brains,” so it makes sense that a Steve Martin documentary would come in two feature-length parts. The first, simply titled “Then,” methodically chronicles each step in his stand-up career, culminating in his record-breaking success as the first comedian able to mount stadium tours. The second installment, “Now,” covers his career as a movie-star, but it mostly picks out the highlights and lowlights of his filmography, focusing more on Martin’s personal challenges and relationships. In addition to laughter and nostalgia, director Morgan Neville also captures some brutally honest reflections from his subject in “STEVE! (martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces,” which premieres Friday on Apple TV+.

Older Generation X’ers might remember just how big Steve Martin was as a live performer, but anyone younger will primarily know him from films, perhaps even associating him with family-themed comedies, such as “Parenthood,” “Father of the Bride,” and “Cheaper by the Dozen.” However, Neville vividly reminds us there was a time when a time when Martin was almost an experimental comedian, who deliberately tried to subvert the traditional set-up-punchline rhythm of his stand-up routines.

Judging from the tapes of his early performances Martin revisits for Neville’s benefit, it is clear his audiences did not always “get” him. He had years of scuffling that “STEVE” documents in detail. Yet, you can hear how his deliberately unconventional style blazed a trail for much of the comedy that followed. Ironically, Martin initially feared that “Saturday Night Live” might usurp his college market, but it turned out to be an important showcase for his talent.

Steve Martin side

©Part 2. Steve Martin in “STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces,” premiering March 29, 2024 on Apple TV+.

Indeed, Neville’s deep-dive into Martin’s early stand-up provides an interesting perspective on his full career. While Martin is now considered an unusually “intellectual” comedian (having a reputation as a playwright and a collector of fine art), he rose to national fame as “The Jerk” and one of the “Wild and Crazy Guys.”

As it happens, “The Jerk” is the only film covered during “Then.” “Now” starts with Martin’s recollections of “Pennies from Heaven,” but it flopped hard, causing great concern for the star. Yet, it is a fitting start for the second “piece,” which is much more concerned with Martin’s struggles with depression and resolving his difficult relationship with his emotionally distant father.

Neville’s coverage of Martin’s acting career is spottier, by design. For more movie anecdotes, viewers should probably check out Martin’s collection of reminiscences, “Number One is Walking,” illustrated by Harry Bliss, whose “New Yorker”-like caricatures are also featured in Neville’s two-part film. Weirdly, Martin’s acclaimed dramatic performance in David Mamet’s “The Spanish Prisoner” is overlooked entirely and fan-favorites like “All of Me,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” and “Little Shop of Horrors” are only seen in passing.

Yet, perhaps counter-intuitively, “Now” is also the funnier “piece,” because it incorporates so many scenes of Martin riffing and kvetching with his long-time “amigo,” Martin Short. Frankly, if Neville had simply filmed three hours Martin and Short bouncing potential jokes for their two-person shows off each other, Apple probably would have been just as happy to release the results.

Steve Martin black and White

©Part 1. Steve Martin in “STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces,” premiering March 29, 2024 on Apple TV+.

Regardless, it is clear their sarcastic comedic rapport is built on the foundation of a genuine friendship. [Steve] Martin also gets a lot of laughs for his snarky, fourth-wall-breaking observations as a documentary subject, being filmed in what he considers mundane situations.

Given the length of the two combined pieces, “STEVE! (martin)” would not be practical for theatrical release. Martin and Short are the primary celebrity voices heard at any great length, with a little bit of Diane Keaton thrown in as a bonus—but seriously, who else would you want? Not surprisingly, Martin’s ex-wife Victoria Tennant is also absent, but he rather graciously takes most, or even all, of the blame for their divorce.

At one point, Martin explains how he concluded he would need to do at least forty movies to get five good ones. Depending on how you count, Martin’s filmography has fifty some feature titles, out of which far more than five are quality, entertaining films. Watching Neville’s profile will encourage many viewers to revisit many of them, which is arguably a solid indication of its success. Neville regularly prompts Martin to open up and discuss some painful topics, but he always maintains a healthy balance between the serious material and the funny business. Highly recommended for casual and die-hard fans alike, “STEVE! (martin)” starts streaming Friday (3/29) on Apple TV+.

Grade: B+

Here’s the trailer of series. 

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