Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story recounts and examines the incredibly compelling, tragic, redemptive story of actor and activist Christopher Reeve. He was made famous playing the superhero Superman in Richard Donner/Richard Lester/Sidney J. Furie’s quartet of films in the ’70s and ’80s. In 1995, Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down after being thrown from a horse during a competition. That terrible accident eventually sparked the creation of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, a non-profit whose goal is to cure spinal-cord injury and improve the quality of life for those with paralysis.

It’s hard to write criticism of films like these. Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story is an important movie about an important subject, supported by those closest to him––in this case, Reeve’s grown-up children Matthew, Alexandra, and Will. Bonhôte and Ettedgui are accomplished documentarians (see their acclaimed film McQueen) and they build out the larger narrative of Reeve’s life well here. Moving back and forth in time, the directing duo parallels his casting in Donner’s 1978 film with his dehabilitating injury nearly two decades later. The incalculable highs of being the star of a hit movie and the incredible lows in his hospital bed weeks after the fall. At one point, Reeve suggested to his wife Dana: “Maybe we should let me go.” This film is essentially a well-made advertisement for their incredibly good cause, but also a beautifully rendered keepsake of a matinee idol and, by all accounts, good person.

Rather personal archival footage, appearing over recollections from family, is affecting. Less so is a fairly ill-advised animated sequence that buffers out the runtime and features a rendering of Reeve’s Superman character floating in space like a God surviving turbulence (cracks caused by kryptonite and what not) to match recountings of real-life challenges. It’s a bit trite and a bit much. Fellow stars and close friends, like Susan Sarandon and Glenn Close (who worked in Reeve’s directorial debut In the Gloaming), speak to Reeve’s work ethic and generous nature, while his children serve as the narrative through-line. There is Reeve’s fear of marriage stemming from a troubled, fractured childhood. Reeve’s friendship to Robin Williams reveals itself crucial to each other’s lives; the two were roommates at Juilliard and maintained their bond, Williams helping Reeve’s family after the accident. Close has an incredibly honest moment, suggesting that Williams would still be alive had Reeve not passed away early.

These reflections are primary reason to watch Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story. The other incentive is the uplifting energy that comes with celebrating Dana Reeve, Chris’ wife who became the spokesperson for the foundation and fuel for their family. Not enough credit is paid to some of the commendable acting work Reeve did when he wasn’t donning the red cape. Seek out The Bostonians, Street Smart, Noises Off…, and Speechless for proof of his underrated versatility in front of the camera. Despite its straightforward, perhaps manipulative heart-tugging nature, this film is impossible not to like because of the goodwill of its subject and foundation he created.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: B

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