Review: Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

In this sometimes difficult-to-watch but ultimately life-affirming documentary, Michael J. Fox turns hopelessness on its head, wringing joy from every fleeting victory.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (Apple TV+)

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Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

Documentary with Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan

Director: Davis Guggenheim

Streaming on Apple TV+

Michael J. Fox is lurching along the sidewalk outside his Manhattan apartment, head down, fisted hands pumping side to side, feet leading him in wildly irregular steps, as if his legs cannot decide whether to run, walk, hop, or stand still.

He is, at once, a man intent on striding purposefully forward while his body seems headed toward every point on the compass.

“The walking thing freaks people out,” Fox says in a voiceover, but on this day, his fitful progress is met with smiles and friendly hellos. Turning to acknowledge a greeting from a passing woman, he catches one foot behind the other and goes tumbling to the cement.

“Nice to meet you,” he calls back as his physical therapist helps him up. “You knocked me off my feet!”

This is the life of Fox, the perpetual child star now turning 62, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease an impossible 33 years ago, when he was just 29 and at the absolute apex of Hollywood stardom.

We get a heaping helping of Fox’s current life in Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie: His regular physical and speech therapy sessions; his activism on behalf of Parkinson’s research; his incremental loss of controlled motion.

But neither Fox nor Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) are interested in our sympathy. For every sobering moment in this sometimes difficult-to-watch but ultimately life-affirming documentary, Fox turns hopelessness on its head, wringing joy from every fleeting victory; laughing uproariously with the love of his life, actress Tracy Pollan, and four grown kids who obviously adore him.

Culling clips from Fox’s prolific — if abbreviated — movie and TV career, Guggenheim pieces together an ingeniously constructed visual biography. Fox narrates his own story, facing the camera directly — supplemented, it appears, with audiobook excerpts from his three memoirs.

Fox’s is a classic rags-to-riches Hollywood story: Growing up as a super-small kid in Canada, he discovers the best way to hang with girls is through the high school drama club. Soon he’s bitten by the acting bug, and like all high school drama buffs, he starts dreaming big. Unlike those other kids, though, he convinces his parents to let him drop out of high school, drive him to Hollywood, and leave him there to scrape out a living as an actor.

In his first three years, Fox lands one-shot roles on 13 TV shows. Not bad, but nothing to write home about — unless you’re writing home asking your parents to come get you, which he was on the verge of doing.

Then comes a casting call for a new sitcom called Family Ties — with 21-year-old Fox playing a politically conservative teenager named Alex Keaton — and he is off and running.

Quite literally: In a dizzying sequence, Fox breathlessly describes the frantic three months when he worked on Family Ties all day, then headed off to film Back to the Future all night, grabbing a couple of hours of sleep at his apartment before doing it all over again.

It was the start of an adrenaline-fueled decade or so for Fox, continuing to make Emmy-winning TV while moonlighting in movies silly (The Secret of My Success) and serious (Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War); blockbuster (two Back to the Future sequels) and boutique (Where the Rivers Flow North).

And right in the middle of that epic run, as Fox tells it, he woke up one morning with “someone else’s finger” wriggling at the end of his hand. That uncontrollable digit, he soon learned, was the earliest symptom of the disease that would betray the young actor famed for his frenetic onscreen energy.

He tried to hide it. For the better part of a decade, Fox feigned business as usual, taking drugs that masked the tremors — until they didn’t. In one heartbreaking clip from his late 1990s sitcom Spin City, Fox can be seen trying to hide one hand, contorted by an apparent spasm, behind a notebook.

Finally, more than a decade after he was diagnosed, Fox told the world his secret. He returned to the Spin City set, unsure an audience would still find him funny.

He need not have worried. And now, even today, Fox remains a charmingly boyish companion, running a trembling hand through his hair, a bittersweet echo of the tics he infused into Alex Keaton so long ago.

Fox speaks, a bit sadly, about the mask of Parkinson’s, which robs the face of expression. And he does seem at time distressingly deadpan, even when telling funny stories.

But then he gets with his family, and that face illuminates with a toothy grin, laughing with abandon. Guggenheim’s camera lingers affectionately on Fox and his wife Tracy, an actress he met on Family Ties; the one person who refused to suck up to him as a superstar. “In sickness and in health,” she whispered to him the day he gave her the devastating news, and she meant it — even when he plunged into debilitating bouts of depression.

“I think we all get our own bag of hammers,” Fox has said. “We all get our own Parkinson’s.”

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is a transcendent account of an incurable optimist who ultimately kept his head — even after that whole bag of hammers was dropped on it at age 29.

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  1. Many of us do not have Apple TV. This should be the regular networks. A dear friend has Parkinson’s. If only her family could watch Michael’s journey. They do not understand and blame her for the disease. No one deserves it.


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