The emotional documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair” starts on an unexpectedly hilarious note. The 49-year-old actress, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) a few years ago, makes joke after joke as she applies her makeup.
“Kim Kardashian sent me some makeup. I’m going to do a shoutout to her ’cause, God knows, no one knows who she is,” Blair quips as she glides a dark shade from the influencer across her lips. She moves on to painting her brows, saying, “More is more, especially when you have no eyelashes,” and “I feel like Cruella, but I feel good in this choice.”
But then, after several minutes of banter, while clad in an animal-print dress and a sparkly turban, Blair grows suddenly tired. Her speech becomes stilted and she struggles to get words out. “Well, this is what happens that I don’t want people to see,” she says, subtitles appearing on the screen to help the audience understand her.
The documentary, in theaters Friday and on discovery+ Oct. 21, gives an intimate, unvarnished look at Blair’s struggles with the autoimmune disorder and her journey to undergo a potentially fatal stem cell transplant.
“She just kept showing up for me each day and telling me the truth and giving me herself in her fullness, which is extremely generous and very unique,” the film’s director, Rachel Fleit, told The Post, adding that Blair gave her complete creative freedom. Blair wasn’t involved in the documentary’s editing and only requested one change: correcting a family photo that was mislabeled.
“Her hand in … the shaping of the narrative was completely absent,” noted Fleit, 40, who is based in Brooklyn.
With iconic turns in “Cruel Intentions” — which included a risqué-for-the-time kiss with Sarah Michelle Gellar — “Legally Blonde” and “The Sweetest Thing,” Blair epitomized a certain sort of cool in the ’90s and early aughts. She was never the perky blonde star, but rather the darker, more intriguing supporting character with a lithe glamour, simmering intelligence and stealthy gaze. She went on to have a successful TV career, appearing in shows such as “Anger Management,” “Kath & Kim” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” in which she nailed the role of Kris Jenner.
But her life took a shocking turn in August 2018 when she was diagnosed with MS. Two months later, she candidly shared the news on Instagram. “I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps. But we are doing it,” she wrote. “And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.” The revealing post currently has over 116,000 likes.
Rather than hide, Blair sought to show the world the realities and possibilities of living with a disability. She accessorized with chic canes and walked the red carpet at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar party in a fabulous Ralph & Russo black-and-pastel gown with a coordinating cape.
But her symptoms continued to worsen despite medication, so in 2019, she made the decision to undergo a stem cell transplant in Chicago at Northwestern University. The relatively new, multistep procedure involves receiving a heavy round of chemotherapy to kill off the body’s unhealthy immune system, as MS is a disease in which the body attacks its own central nervous system. Then, once a patient’s immunity is near zero, they receive an infusion of healthy stem cells that have been previously harvested from the patient themselves or a donor, with the goal of the body building a new, more functional immune system.
Since 1995, more than 3,000 patients with autoimmune diseases have undergone stem cell transplants. The disease can’t be fully cured, but, after two years, 83% of MS patients who underwent the procedure had no evidence of disease activity, and after five years, 67% were still in remission. But the treatment is also grueling and risky. In early trials, the fatality rate was over 7%.
As Blair prepared for the treatment, documenting the journey seemed fitting, and a mutual friend connected her to Fleit in April 2019. The two hit it off and they started making the film the next month. Both appreciate gallows humor, and Fleit struggles with an autoimmune disease of her own. She has alopecia and has been bald her whole life.
“Selma immediately connected our autoimmune things,” the filmmaker recalled. “She was like, ‘You’re bald and I have MS. What are we going to do about it?’”
In June 2019, Blair and a small crew traveled to Chicago for the stem cell transplant. Beforehand, Blair has to say goodbye to her son, Arthur, then 8 years old. She feels horrible physically, but she summons the energy for a game of dodgeball and dance party to Usher’s “Yeah!” before his departure.
“You can’t twerk with MS,” she says, but puts forth an impressive effort.
When Arthur’s father, designer Jason Bleick, comes to pick him up, it’s one of the film’s more emotional moments.
“Arthur, if you ever feel like calling me, awesome,” she tells him. “If you don’t, I totally get it.”
“Bye, tomato head,” he calls back to her, as she waves and cries from a distance, unsure when she’ll see him again.
Later in the film, Blair and Arthur are reunited in Chicago while she’s receiving treatment. The young boy is worried about her losing her hair with the chemo, so Blair lets him preemptively shave her head.
“I’ll just have you cut it, so it’s not so surprising,” she tells him.
Such moments strike a contrast to the relationship Blair had with her own mother. In one section of the film, the actress leafs through old magazines and holds up a 1999 issue of “Seventeen” where she was featured on the cover. She recalls how her mom, always critical, told her she looked “so unimportant” on the magazine.
“My mother tethered a darkness to me,” she said. “It’s all about my mom. It’s never good enough, and it never will be.”
But she ultimately comes to terms not only with her disease but also with her mother’s negativity and its impact on her sense of self.
As she is undergoing the final phases of her transplant, her mother is dying and Blair prays for both of them, asking for her mother not to be afraid.
“I’m embarrassed to say, [but] I’m at peace,” Blair later says. “I have huge moments where I’m not, but overall, I’m at peace.”
The stem cell transplant is ultimately successful, but it’s not quite the miracle cure that Blair hoped it would be. At the close of the film, she’s able to return to riding her beloved horse but she still faces challenges.
“She’s like the rest of us, just getting through the day, good days and bad days,” Fleit said. “This isn’t a sad story.”