Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Gleason Movie Poster Image
Emotional docu's powerful story outweighs strong language.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 110 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance and courage are strong themes. A person's faith, family, friendship, and love can help them overcome any obstacle, no matter how great. The power of parental love is so amazing that it can make someone want to live even under unthinkably difficult circumstances. A person of privilege has a moral responsibility to help those less fortunate. There's value in living with a disability, even when your life is no longer the same it was when you were healthy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Steve and Michel are amazing role models. They have a strong, loving marriage; even though it's tested and there are times each of them is down, depressed, or sad, they get through their hardships together. Steve is a loving, generous, courageous husband, father, and friend. His organization helps countless others with ALS. The Gleasons are lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends.


It can be sad/disturbing to see Steve ill in various ways -- like when he's constipated and needs a nurse to disimpact him, or when it's clear he needs surgery that will keep him from using his voice, or when he falls because he can longer run or walk on his own.


Embraces/brief kisses between a married couple.


Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "f--king," "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn," "bulls--t," "crap," etc.


Volkswagen, Apple, iPhone, MacBook, Patagonia, Pearl Jam.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gleason is a documentary about former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason, who announced in 2011 that he'd been diagnosed with ALS. In the documentary, Gleason - who famously blocked a punt by the Atlanta Falcons in the first NFL game held at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006 -- talks mostly to the camera as a video journal to eventually show his unborn (and then growing) son. There are interviews with family and friends, but most of the story is of Gleason. He and his wife curse pretty regularly ("f--k," "s--t," and more -- hence the "R" rating), but it's hard not to sympathize a bit given their unthinkably difficult circumstances. There are also some sad/disturbing scenes of Gleason ill, unable to move or speak, and even contemplating the value of his life, but overall this is a powerfully inspirational story about an elite athlete's perseverance and courage during the most trying of times.

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What's the story?

GLEASON is a documentary about former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 and nearly immediately found out that he and his wife, Michel, were expecting their first (and only) child. Famous for blocking a punt in the Saints' first game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, Steve is a beloved player who put down roots with his New Orleans-born wife. The documentary is a compilation of Gleason's personal video journals -- first addressed to his unborn baby and then, after Rivers was born, his growing little boy. An unflinching look at Gleason's physical deterioration, the documentary shows how the former elite athlete sets up Team Gleason (a nonprofit to help others with ALS) and, more intimately, portrays how he and his family deal with the real and devastating effects of a disease that took away his ability to use his arms, legs, and voice.

Is it any good?

Inspirational and heartbreaking, this documentary about Gleason's life with ALS is an intimate portrayal of how a terrible disease has nonetheless made the former NFL star stronger. It's incredibly courageous for Gleason to allow his personal reflections and thoughts for his son to be shared with the world. Director Clay Tweel makes powerful use of Gleason's daily journals, from the days before his diagnosis -- when he was still a bronzed and built former NFL player -- to all of the incredibly difficult and debilitating moments that lead to him being in a wheelchair, reliant on assistive technology to speak.

The film's focus is on Gleason, who deals with everything from lingering issues with his father (with whom he disagrees about some fundamental aspects of faith and salvation) to the almost surreal contrast of being lionized with a statue outside the Superdome and yet not being in control of his bowels. But the documentary's heart is really Michel. She's the one the audience relates to as she struggles with her own heartache at seeing the man she loves transformed from the pinnacle of physical fitness to being unable to do anything on his own. She's the one who must balance raising her baby with taking care of her husband -- even when she enlists a friend to help with Steve, it's still mostly her responsibility to be a full-time mother and caretaker. Their marriage, their son, and the Team Gleason nonprofit they create are the cornerstones of why Gleason fights for every day he's granted.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes Steve Gleason a role model. What does he do in the face of his disease? How does he help others? How does he demonstrate courage and perseverance? Why are those important character strength?

  • Some have called Steve and his wife atypical for a former football player/player's wife. Why do think that is? Are they different than what you expected?

  • What is the role of faith in Steve's story? How does he approach faith differently than his father?

  • There's a lot of swearing in the movie. Does the context make it more forgivable than in other movies? Why or why not?

  • Discuss what you learned about ALS and how it affects people. How do you think you could help with ALS awareness or research?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports stories

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