Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023 – Documentary) | REVIEW

Michael J. Fox in “STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

One of the things that I have thought a lot about since I was first made aware of this documentary has been my own relationship with Michael J. Fox’s work. I think I speak for a lot of people my age (and maybe even a slightly older generation) when I say that I grew up with his work. For my upbringing, Back to the Future was as important as Star Wars or Jurassic Park. Frankly, I think he might’ve even been my first favorite actor because I genuinely remember a young me watching films and shows solely because he was in them, including The Frighteners and Spin City. I remember hearing about his diagnosis when I was very young, and I probably think about him and his condition more than I realize. As such, I was always going to be interested in this documentary, which is why I am glad to say that Fox isn’t just a fantastic documentary subject, the documentary itself — from Davis Guggenheim (the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind An Inconvenient Truth, who, by the way, is married to Elisabeth Shue, who starred alongside Fox in Back to the Future Parts II and III) — is terrific as well.

Since Michael J. Fox — who, at the time of writing, is 61 years old (he turns 62 next month) — went public in the late 1990s about living with Parkinson’s disease, Fox has been very open about what he has gone through, as he has since then authored four different books. Therefore I would say that most people know about his condition, and most people know about how Eric Stoltz was the original Marty McFly. Perhaps a lot of people know about his spout with alcoholism and workaholism. Because of all of this, I was initially unsure of what this documentary had up its sleeves that we didn’t already know. Well, the truth is that it does have something up its sleeves, but that thing is centered around Fox’s family — his daily salvation that gives him clarity and peace — as well as the fact that the documentary updates us on how one of the most beloved actors of the late 20th century is doing. Fox feels compelled to tell his story now because his world is getting smaller, and because, he says, “If I’m here twenty years from now, I’ll either be cured or like a pickle.”

This documentary has Fox speak to the camera — I gather that he’s reading aloud from one of his books — and telling his story the way he remembers it. He takes us from his childhood where he was always small and fast, through his struggles in Hollywood where he went from being able to take on work meant for younger actors due to his boyish looks to then lacking enough opportunities to make ends meet, and all the way to where he is now. Now, this biographical documentary doesn’t fall into the trap of relying on familiar tropes of the biographical documentary genre. This documentary is not littered with talking head interviews from doctors or coworkers. This is all from Fox’s perspective, with a couple of questions from Guggenheim added in to guide the story along.

Guggenheim instead tells the story with scenes of Fox and his family today, recreations, and magical editing. A lot of praise should go to editor Michael Harte who gives the film a real sense of energy. Harte and Guggenheim have stitched together recreations with clips of archival footage, clips from Fox’s shows, and clips from Fox’s films so that they match Fox’s narration. If Fox were to say that something opened doors for him or if he said that someone called him, then the documentary would show him opening a door or picking up the phone by way of a Family Ties clip, or the like. In fact, the best section of the film is the part where Fox is describing how overwhelmed he was as he was trying to make Back to the Future and Family Ties work at the same time. Here the energetic editing packs a pace and a punch, and you feel exactly how demanding it was. You become exhausted for him, but it isn’t tiring to watch — it’s impressive.

56 minutes, or so, into the documentary is when Fox’s narrative reaches his diagnosis. But, with that having been said, Parkinson’s disease is an inescapable fact that runs throughout the film. In fact, the film opens with a recreation of him passed out in his bed, then waking up and watching his left pinky twitch on its own. He says that the 1990 experience was a message from the future, as we then cut to Fox in the present day waking up and struggling with his daily routine. Throughout the documentary, we see the toll it is taking on him. There are numerous injuries, and Guggenheim makes sure to have Fox admit when he is in pain. In fact, in the first ten-to-twenty minutes, we see Fox trying to walk around in public, but then he falls over as someone walks by. It is a sad moment but a real moment. It’s also something that is hard to watch for those of us who love that man, but Guggenheim includes that moment for a very specific reason. Because without missing a beat, Fox then comes up with a tiny joke that reveals that throughout it all, he is still himself.

It was also really nice to see his family. There is a moment during physical therapy when Fox is asked about his wife, and he says that she — Family Ties actress Tracy Pollan — is married to him, still. There can be no doubt that he is absolutely grateful for her. She was the one to call him out on his bullshit when he was “bigger than bubblegum” — “the boy prince of Hollywood” — and she is the one who keeps him grounded even as he is unable to sit still today. And together they have a wonderful family. Like I suppose many men of his generation, he gets teased by his family for not responding to their texts. Unlike many men of his generation, he feels compelled to ask one of his children, if having him as their father is like having a ninety-year-old as a dad.

There is no denying that there are sad moments in Still. But it isn’t all sad. Davis Guggenheim’s Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is a wonderfully edited tell-all about the titular star’s ups and downs that highlights what kept him grounded, how he combated his condition in the nineties (pills in his pockets; trying to hold onto something with his left hand), and the people who now keep him on his feet. I highly recommend it, and I wish the Fox-Pollan family the very best.

8.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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