Review: ‘Move Me’ (2022), starring Kelsey Peterson

April 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kelsey Peterson in “Move Me” (Photo by Brennan Vance/Submerged Film)

“Move Me” (2022)

Directed by Kelsey Peterson and Daniel Klein

Culture Representation: Taking place in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Madeline Island, Wisconsin, the documentary film “Move Me” features a group of almost all white people (and one person of Indian heritage) from the middle-class discussing the life of Kelsey Peterson, whose legs became paralyzed from a diving accident in 2012, when she was 27 years old.

Culture Clash: Peterson, who was an aspiring dancer when she became paralyzed, contemplates being part of a risky clinical trial to regain her muscle nerve sensations, and she becomes involved in a performing arts production called “A Cripple’s Dance.” 

Culture Audience: “Move Me” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a true and inspirational story about adjusting to life using a wheelchair and how to overcome personal challenges and crises.

Kelsey Peterson in “Move Me” (Photo by Brennan Vance/Submerged Film)

On July 3, 2012, when Kelsey Peterson was 27 years old, she made a decision that would change her life: While she was drunk on a boat during a party, she dived into Wisconsin’s Lake Superior, and hit the ground. This fateful dive would leave her with quadriplegia, paralyzed from the waist down and with her arms partially paralyzed. Although this terrible accident changed her life, it does not define who Peterson is as a person.

If there’s any takeaway from Peterson’s biographical documentary “Move Me,” which Peterson co-directed Daniel Klein, it’s that people’s true characters should not be defined by their physical abilities but how they live their lives. It’s a story that takes a realistic look at adjusting to life after paraplegia, although it’s told from a very privileged perspective of people who have the health insurance and the resources for ongoing medical care. “Move Me” had its world premiere at the 2022 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival before its New York premiere at the 2022 ReelAbilities Film Festival.

Peterson is not famous, but she opened up for this documentary (her feature-film debut as a director and producer) to share her story about how she is living as someone who happens to use a wheelchair after losing the ability to walk. Peterson is mostly optimistic, but she understandably still struggles to come to terms with not being able to move around like she was able to do before her diving accident. “Move Me” is not a preachy film, but it’s a candid story about one person’s journey in facing harsh realities as a person with a disability and making decisions on how to move forward without falling into self-pitying traps.

“Move Me” is a look into a specific time in Peterson’s life, when she is considering being a participant in an experimental clinical trial to regain sensations in her paralyzed muscle nerves. During the movie, she also becomes a dance performer in local production called “A Cripple’s Dance,” which stars people who use wheelchairs, along with people who have the ability to dance with their legs. Before her diving accident, Peterson had dreams of becoming a professional dancer.

“Move Me” opens with voiceover narration from Peterson, who says about the ability to move her muscles that are now paralyzed: “I spend a lot of time imagining moving and remembering that feeling. I wonder if it would be easier not remembering the life that I miss and the life that I want. It’s like this hidden prick on your heart.”

She continues, “I used to be Kelsey, the dancer. Now, I’m Kelsey, the girl in the wheelchair … Yeah, I’m in a wheelchair, but I just get put in this box, like this one-dimensional character. It’s like I’m being underestimated or something.”

During various parts of the movie, Peterson show glimmers of hope that medical technology might improve so that one day, she might regain the ability to move parts of her body that now have paralysis. She’s realistic in accepting the medical diagnosis that she will probably never walk again without using some kind of physical aid. However, Peterson is fairly certain that there might be a time when she can regain feeling in parts of her body that are now numb with paralysis.

Peterson expresses curiosity and fear about a clinical trial in Minneapolis to get an electronic simulation implant to regain sensations in paralyzed muscles for people with quadriplegia. It’s a risky clinical trial where positive results are not guaranteed. Peterson worries out loud, “What if something goes wrong?”

During the documentary, Peterson interviews two middle-aged women who have participated in the clinical trial. A clinical trial participant named Kathy Allen, who is interviewed in person, is forthright in telling Peterson that the biggest improvement that Allen experienced was that it now takes her less time (an average of 30 minutes, compared to an average 60 minutes) to complete the bowel movement process. Allen says to Peterson about the clinical trial, “I don’t want to sound like an infomercial, but do it!”

The other participant who talks about the clinical trial is named Sandra, who is interviewed over the phone and whose last name is not revealed in the documentary. Sandra said that one of the best results of the clinical trial was that she was able to regain the ability to experience sexual orgasms, which she compares to feeling like a “balloon pop” since she has been paralyzed. Peterson is especially happy to hear about this result, because she says that just because she uses a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean that she’s lost her sex drive. However, Peterson reveals that after she was paralyzed, she didn’t have sex for five years.

Peterson also speaks with a man in his 20s named Xander Mozejewski, who did not participate in this particular clinical trial for electronic simulation implants, but he participated in a similar clinical trial. Mozejewski tells Peterson that he had mixed results: At first, he actually regained his ability to stand, but some apparent side effects included excruciating pain in his legs. Mozejewski’s story seems to make Peterson even more concerned about whether or not she should be part of the clinical trial that she is considering.

“Move Me” also chronicles Peterson’s participation in “A Cripple’s Dance,” a production conceived and directed by musician Gabriel “Gabe” Rodreick, a hippie-ish friend of Peterson’s who uses the stage name Freaque and who also happens to use a wheelchair. He explains that he chose to use the word “cripple” in the production title, to take back the derogatory meaning for the word and put it in a positive context. Gabe, his father Matthew Rodreick and Gabe’s stepmother Kristin Rodreick Wilson are also featured in the documentary.

Peterson is also shown briefly with several of her female personal care assistants, whose names are listed in the documentary as Jenn O’Reilly, Dhanyella “Nella” Kurchek, Avaline “Avi” Marshall and Christi Adaline. Peterson is also seen during a medical check-up with Dr. Arun Idiculla. Peterson is friendly and upbeat with all of them. And she doesn’t hide the process of what wheelchair-using people have to do to take care of certain bodily functions. There’s a scene in the movie that shows Peterson (who’s fully dressed) using a tube inserted through her abdomen to urinate.

In “Move Me,” Peterson is at her most emotionally vulnerable when she’s with her parents: Spence Peterson and Tori Moore. The documentary includes home video footage (mostly taken by Kelsey’s mother) of when Kelsey was a child and a teenager. In one of the home video clips, Spence is seen playing with two boy toddlers who appear to be Kelsey’s older brothers. If Kelsey has any siblings, they are not mentioned in the documentary and perhaps chose not to participate.

By her own admission, Kelsey is a “daddy’s girl.” She says, “My dad was that guy who brought joy and fun.” He sang and played guitar and passed on a love of music to Kelsey, who knew from an early age that she wanted to be a dancer. In the documentary, Kelsey’s mother says that Kelsey was in the hospital after the diving accident, Kelsey was very much in denial that her paralysis. “She thought she was going to walk out of there in three months,” says Moore.

Spence remembers that when he would visit Kelsey in the hospital, “She’d have a smile on her face … I think she was faking it for me.” Moore replies, “She definitely was,” as Spence’s drops his head in disappointment.” Later, he comments in an emotional moment on Kelsey’s paralysis, “It’s frustrating, because I can’t fix it. Daddies like to fix stuff. I can’t fix it.”

Another scene in the movie shows the heartbreak and guilt over the accident. Kelsey and her father Spence are on the phone when he scolds her about what caused the accident: “You drank too much, and you didn’t use good judgment.” Kelsey (who no doubt feels worse about the accident than anyone else) gets tearful when she says, “Dad, you have to forgive me though!” Spence replies, “Honey, I always forgive you. You can still be angry about something and forgive somebody for whatever’s happened.”

It’s in these moments that “Move Me” are at its most poignant, because the documentary shows the reality that living with a disability can be more painful psychologically than physically. In this documentary, Kelsey admirably also reveals what it’s like to deal with the extra level of trauma of knowing that her actions caused the accident, not because of someone else’s actions and not because she was born with quadriplegia. She says at one point about having to use a wheelchair: “This chair puts up a wall between me and the people I love sometimes.”

“Move Me” has recurring themes and discussions of coping with disappointments when life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Kelsey also shares her feelings about how people treated her differently after she began using a wheelchair, such as strangers being less willing to make eye contact with her. And the movie takes a heartbreaking turn when it’s revealed that Spence has Stage 4 lung cancer.

“Move Me” isn’t a pity party, but the documentary could have used more self-awareness in acknowledging that having personal care assistants and the type of care that comes with health insurance can make a big difference in people’s recoveries. Wheelchair-using people who are financially deprived and/or don’t have health insurance aren’t as lucky. The movie also could have used some more interview perspectives, other than Kelsey’s family members, a few close friends and the three clinical trial participants she interviewed. However, the filmmakers should be commended for not overstuffing this documentary with talking heads and keeping the focus intimate and personal.

The technical aspects of “Move Me” are competently handled and include some nice artistic shots of blue fabric that is used in “A Cripple’s Dance.” The fabric is supposed to represent water in the performance. Whether not viewers can relate to Kelsey’s struggles, “Move Me” is a documentary that is completely engaging and often inspiring, because as a director and as a biographical film subject, she comes across as authentic and honest about showing this part of her life.

The PBS series “Independent Lens” will premiere “Move Me” on a date to be announced.

Copyright 2017-2022 Culture Mix