Sunday, March 3, 2024
HomeReviewsSundance Review / Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story Flies High with Emotion

Sundance Review / Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story Flies High with Emotion

Just like Superman, the most indelible superheros are those who repeatedly defy self-pity, even in the most difficult circumstances. They instead rise up to become a passionate advocate to improve not their own lives, but also others who find themselves in the same situation.

Christopher Reeve is one such superhero, whose successful career was marred by a tragic accident later in life. That late-stage tragedy is chronicled in the new biographical documentary Super/Man : The Christopher Reeves Story

The project reunites filmmakers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui. The duo served as directors on the new feature after they previously helmed the fellow documentaries, McQueen and Rising Phoenix, together.

Ettedgui also wrote the new movie, with Otto Burnham and Bonhôte serving as co-scribes. Burnham edited the documentary, as well, with Bonhôte also working as  a producer.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story features never-before-seen home movies and personal archives, which reveal how the titular performer went from unknown actor to iconic movie star as the ultimate screen superhero. After appearing in the superhero franchise, he learned the true meaning of heroism. He became an activist after suffering the tragic accident that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator to breathe.

Moving back and forth in time, Bonhôte and Ettedgui weave together a dual narrative exploring the life-changing impact of two pivotal moments in Reeve’s career: being cast in 1978’s Superman and then becoming paralyzed in 1995. Decades before superheroes took over the cinemas, he made the world believe a man could fly. His accident later brought worldwide awareness of disability.

In Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story, Reeve’s family and close confidantes demonstrate remarkable candor in their reflections on life before and after the accident. The result is a deeply moving film foregrounding the man behind Superman, through a full-fledged portrait that encompasses both the soaring heights and the dark depths of Reeve’s journey.

Having previously directed the McQueen documentary about the eponymous fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and then Rising Phoenix, which chronicles the history of the Paralympic movement, Bonhôte and Ettedgui were equipped to tell Reeve’s life story. The filmmaking duo capture the personal, relatable element of the actor’s transformation from beloved actor to respected activist. Their latest movie balances exploring how he became a iconic actor within the American superhero genre, before he later pivoted his life to become an extremely strong advocate for disabled rights.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story succeeds in its emotional telling of Reeve’s life journey by having Burnham work on outlining its story with Ettedgui and Bonhôte before he started the editing process. The editor infused the documentary with the message that even though tragedy and loss play such a central part in the BAFTA Award-winning actor’s life, there’s also evidence of hope and kindness.

Through the resilience of the human spirit, Reeve is shown to have been grateful for the life he led. His gratitude continuously grew, despite the fact that his accident impacted his health and ended his acting career.

Even the briefest clips of the actor in the Superman films, including his character flying up to save Lois Lane from what would be a fatal fall, throughout the documentary remind audiences why they embraced him. He was a near-invincible force that audiences relied on for guidance and reassurance, especially in life’s most vulnerable and challenging situations.

The main poignant moments that the filmmakers infused into Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story are the the footage and interviews that chronicle what a physical man Reeve was, both on- and -off screen. Some of the actor’s most famous friends, including Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon and Jeff Daniels, also emphasize what an empowering force he was while working on his signature franchise and in his personal life. They also indicate the lasting bonds he formed with his colleagues while working.

Besides being a hero to millions of superhero fans and the people he helped through his activism, Reeve was a constant beacon of hope and support to his family. All three of his children – Alexandra and Matthew from his 10-year romance with British modeling agent Gae Exton, and Will from his marriage to actress-singer Dana Morosini – fondly remember their father. Their touching candor about him is often accompanied by sentimental home-video fragments from their childhoods that Burnham interweaves into the movie’s overarching story.

Throughout Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story, Reeve is shown to have determinedly worked to keep his blended family happy, as his own father was emotionally distant throughout his upbringing. Exton also remained in her former partner’s life in order to help him maintain a relationship with their children. She stayed so emotionally attached to their family that in the documentary, she cried while recalling how her relationship with Reeve ran its course.

Burnham’s effortlessly shifted back and forth between pre- and post-accident life chapters in Reeve’s life with the aid of Ilan Eshkeri’s elegant score. The film’s music complemented and subtly emphasized the triumphs during the retelling of the actor’s entire life, rather than being used to create a sense of poignancy over his accident.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story chronicles Reeve’s astonishing rise from unknown actor to iconic movie star after he was cast as the titular superhero. His definitive portrayal of the Man of Steel set the benchmark for the superhero cinematic universes that has dominated modern  cinema over the past 15 years.

Throughout their new film, Bonhôte and Ettedgui used their expertise as documentarians to showcase how after becoming a quadriplegic following his turn as Superman, Reeve became a charismatic activist. As a passionate advocate for disability rights and care, he led the quest to find a cure for spinal cord injuries, while remaining dedicated to his beloved family.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story thrives in showcasing the actor’s activism by including never-before-seen intimate home movies and personal archive material. The documentary also stands out by showcasing the first extended interviews ever filmed with Reeve’s three children about their father, and interviews with the A-list Hollywood actors who were Reeve’s colleagues and friends. The project is a moving and vivid cinematic telling of Reeve’s remarkable story.

Grade: A-

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles. 

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story makes its world premiere in the Premieres section at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Following the documentary’s premiere at the festival, Warner Bros Discovery emerged as the frontrunner to secure the official distribution rights to the project.

Karen Benardello
Karen Benardello
As a life-long fan of films and television shows, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic in 2008. Karen has since been working in the press in New York City, including interviewing film and television casts and crews, writing movie and television news articles and reviewing films and televisions series. Some of her highlights include attending such local events as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and New York Comic-Con, as well as traveling across North America to attend such festivals as the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has been a member of the Women Film Critics Circle since 2012, and the New York Film Critics Online since 2019.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments