‘STEVE! (martin) a Documentary in 2 Pieces’ Review: More Than Funny

My introduction to Steve Martin was probably in The Muppet Movie, but I fell in love with him through a copy of The Three Amigos that my parents had recorded during a free HBO weekend. I have not come close to seeing his full filmography – potential goal for 2025, maybe? – but his comedy sensibilities have been among my favorites since I was a child. As such, I have been anxious to watch Apple TV+’s STEVE! (martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces

This comes to us from filmmaker Morgan Neville, who follows the career of one of the most iconic comedians of a generation. Calling it a two-part documentary is generous because it’s actually two full-length documentaries, both clocking in at just over 90 minutes. 

Steve Martin’s Rise to Comedy Legend

The first half, called Then, follows Martin’s somewhat troubled childhood and efforts to break into the entertainment community. It shows his magic, his time studying philosophy, writing for the Smothers Brothers, and working small clubs as a stand-up. We see a man trying to do something new and different from his peers, with a lot of not-quite success. With this, we see intense anxiety and loneliness as he tries to juggle the demands of travel and work with relationships.

Eventually, he was able to break into television. His appearances on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show and especially Saturday Night Live caused his stand-up albums to go platinum, with him eventually filling stadiums with people wearing bunny ears, balloon hats, and broken arrows. He went from the guy who could take his audience out for pie at a local diner after the show to someone who would clog city streets trying to do the same and realizing that it wasn’t safe. 

Until one day when he just stopped doing stand-up for 35 years.

The second part of the documentary, titled Now, starts at the beginning of Martin’s film career and is told through various comic panels from his illustrated memoir, Number One is Walking. Through the ups of The Jerk and downs of Mixed Nuts, this looks at everything. This is a far more introspective documentary, trying to unpack the man himself through his writing, the art he has collected, and through the various relationships he has had over the years. 

Steve Martin Offstage: A Man Finding Happiness

One of my favorite parts about the second half is the inclusion of Martin Short, watching them work on the stand-up show they did together and just doing things friends do. Sometimes, when we see people who work together, there can be some questions as to how they get along in the real world, but over and over, the audience is afforded to see them not just as colleagues but as actual friends who just like to spend time together.

As an actual documentary, there is nothing particularly striking about this. It’s all pretty standard documentary feature fare. I appreciate the vast number of clips that we are shown, and the walk through some of the more private aspects of Martin’s life. I also appreciate that they show some of the boundaries that he sets with the press. At no point do we see his daughter on screen, and it was nice to see him protect her privacy in that way, considering how in the spotlight he is.

But even though there is nothing ground-breaking in the documentary style of this movie, Steve Martin himself more than makes up for it by being such a fascinating subject. Few people are able to make a name for themselves in a single segment of the entertainment world, but Martin has done it over and over again – successful comedian, successful film star, successful writer, successful musician, and now successful television star. To have spent half a century making people laugh in so many outlets is incredible and deeply worthy of these films. If I’m going to spend more than three hours with a celebrity, he’s definitely one worth that time. 

A Life Lived Backwards: Steve Martin’s Personal Journey

Steve Martin built his career as a parody of a successful entertainer and then became the person he parodied, and he did much of that in isolation. He often speaks in the film of being someone who lived his life backward, dealing with anxiety and making a career when he was young and then finding love and a family and opening up more in his later years. 

Seeing Martin now at 75 as a devoted husband, father, and friend while continuing to have a successful career is a wonder. One of his most popular comedy albums is Let’s Get SmallSteve Martin can never have a small life, but he certainly seems to have a happy and contented one now, and as a fan, that brings me as much joy as any of his performances. 

STEVE! (martin) a Documentary in 2 Pieces will stream on Apple TV+ on March 29, 2024.

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