Review: Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces, Apple TV+

Review: Steve! Apple TV+

If ever there was a comedian whose career was a game of two halves it's Steve Martin. The self-styled 'wild and crazy guy' quit stand-up in 1980 in his thirties, having decided that he had acheived all that he could and taken the artform as far as he could. Which was pretty far. He then started from ground zero as a movie star, as well as a gigging banjo player.

So it makes sense that this excellent documentary comes in two very different parts too, entitled Then and Now. They have such a different tone they might have been about a different artist. What they have in common is that they both give us a great insight into this unique comic.

The first part, Then, is the more conventional. It traces Martin's life from his childhood to working in a magic shop to getting his early TV break thanks to the Smothers Brothers but then still struggled to find his voice until he started smartening up his appearance but loosening up his style. 

Needless to say a motivation for his career choice is offered. His father, the film suggests, didn't show him any affection. So what do you do? Become a performer and seek affection from others. Even when he was a star his father didn't change. After a big hit he said his son was great but no Chaplin.

Archive footage shows us how Martin evolved. His secret turns out was fiendishly simple. He drew on the props he'd used when he worked in the magic shop and he made it OK to be silly – a stark contrast to the political satirists such as Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. And it certainly worked. Martin went from supporting rock bands on tour to playing stadium gigs himself. Now that's taking stand-up as far as it can go. 

So the second half deals with a very different career, mainly in the movies. This time round there are more talking heads paying homage, from Jerry Seinfeld and Martin Short to Tina Fey. Plus Martin appearing on camera in reflective mood himself. He made it big with the Jerk and a succession of films directed by Carl Reiner but then came unstuck trying to go straight with Pennies From Heaven. Not even learning to tap dance could save the adaptation of Dennis Potter's BBC drama.

But Martin still had plenty of box office and critical hits, such as Parenthood, as well as a few more flops which are understandably glossed over. Martin shows us his art collection and gives us a glimpse into his home life. A marriage to LA Story co-star Victoria Tennant ended and he later married New Yorker fact checker Anne Stringfield and becme a father in his sixties.

He has all the usual anxieties of a comedian and probably a few more of his own, but seems to be mellow and relaxed as well as funny as himself onscreen. It's great to follow his journey. This is a must-see for all fans of comedy. And in a way things may have come full circle. He hasn't entirely given up stand-up, he just doesn't do it alone any more - at the end we see him gigging with his Only Murders In The Building buddy Martin Short. One of my great regrets is I had tickets to see them at the Royal Albert Hall on March 14, 2020. Well, we all know what happened then...

Steve! (Martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces is now streaming on Apple TV+

Picture: Apple TV


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