‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces’ review: From wild and crazy to wry and wise

Having profiled the likes of Fred Rogers, Anthony Bourdain and Keith Richards, documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville sets his eyes on stand-up’s finest living legend that meanders from the absurd to the introspective

March 29, 2024 12:32 pm | Updated March 30, 2024 05:37 pm IST

Steve Martin in Apple TV’s ‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces‘ 

Steve Martin in Apple TV’s ‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces‘  | Photo Credit: @AppleFilms/X

In Morgan Neville’s insightful sketch on the ever-charismatic Steve Martin, we are treated to a two-pronged exploration of a man who spends the better half of the docuseries’ runtime doing R Crumb’s absurd Keep On Truckin’ walk; a man who insists that prolonged segments of ‘high-speed babbling’ are the culmination of advanced logic and philosophy. Divided into two distinct segments, Apple TV’s Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces deftly navigates through the life of the eponymous comic veteran, from his early days as a “wild and crazy guy” to his more introspective present.

With a blend of absurdity, intellect, and a dash of banjo-playing charm, Steve Martin carved a path through the entertainment world unlike anyone else. From his humble beginnings as a struggling magician to his reign as the ‘King of Comedy’, we see Martin try desperately to convince us that he “had no talent”; and that his act was so “aggressively stupid”, that it was a wonder that he ever paved his way to success.

Steve Martin in Apple TV’s ‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces‘ 

Steve Martin in Apple TV’s ‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces‘  | Photo Credit: Apple TV

Yet, through a combination of archival footage, family photos, sweaty stage notes and Martin’s own narration, it becomes increasingly obvious that his ascent to comedic stardom was nothing short of meteoric. Neville skillfully deconstructs Martin’s comedic style, emphasising a departure from political humour in favour of a unique brand of clean, absurd comedy, or as Martin puts it, a free-form laughter — the sort “you have with your friends, with your sides aching” or the kind that is ridiculous enough to make you go, “I don’t know why it was funny, but it was”.

In the 1970s, armed with only a white suit and Groucho glasses, he took the stand-up circuit by storm. His routines, a frenetic mix of physical comedy and razor-sharp observations, left audiences gasping for breath and clamouring for more. As one of the interviewees aptly put it, “his act was not comedy. It was about the absurdity of performing and the ridiculousness of people standing in front of other people being funny”. With classic bits like ‘Excuuuse Me!’ and ‘The Great Flydini’, Martin became a household name practically overnight, earning the title of one of the most successful stand-up comedians of all time.

‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces‘ (English)
Creator: Morgan Neville
Cast: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Lorne Michaels, Diane Keaton, Jerry Seinfeld
Episodes: 2
Storyline: Comedian Steve Martin’s reflects on the transformation that led to happiness in his art and personal life.
Runtime: 98 minutes

But Martin was never one to rest on his laurels; sensing a new frontier beckoning, he made the bold leap into the world of Hollywood. However, though he showcased a versatility that few comedians could match, his metamorphosis was met with ridicule, making way for a sombre period in his life. A quick cutaway video clipping featured a cruel exchange with the press that encapsulated his waning sense of self — “Hey Steve, why aren’t you funny any more?”.

In the second half of the docuseries, Neville paints a more intimate portrait of Martin with a bold departure from his style of storytelling. Though the transition is hardly seamless, we now abruptly cut to the present, where an older, greyer Martin seems entirely satisfied feasting on his poached eggs.

Eschewing the trappings of celebrity, Martin maintained a fiercely private life, often retreating to his art-filled oasis away from the prying eyes of Hollywood. Through candid interviews with Martin himself, as well as his wife Anne Stringfield and industry big-wigs, we get a (slight) glimpse into the vulnerabilities of Martin’s transition from stand-up to film, which much to the dismay of Father of the Bride or Bowfinger fans, are frustratingly reduced to mere “anecdotes” from his career.

Steve Martin in Apple TV’s ‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces‘ 

Steve Martin in Apple TV’s ‘Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces‘  | Photo Credit: Apple TV

Of course, no Steve Martin biography would be complete without the likes of his inseparable lifelong compadre, Martin Short. We’re graced with a nourishing helping of the two septuagenarians making their way around town delivering laundry, feeding horses and relentlessly roasting each other. As they welcome their ever-closing eternal rest with a delightfully facetious wit, Short adds a perfect dose of zaniness to Martin’s deadpan brilliance. Together, they prove that the only thing better than one Martin is two, and the world is a brighter, funnier place for it.

Martin began this two-part dissection of his life and legacy with musings on his early days, starting out in showbiz as a magician — “They love it when the tricks don’t work”. Ultimately, Neville may have employed every trick in the book to make privy the infamously reserved side of the comic icon, but to little avail. Martin may have started as a “wild and crazy guy” but he evolved into so much more: a comedic pioneer, a Hollywood icon, a loving father and, above all, a true magician, seldom revealing his secrets.

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