Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie paints a complete picture of actor's complex life
Of all the big stars that rose to fame in the 1980s, few appealed as broadly as Michael J. Fox, who hit his peak in 1985 when he was simultaneously on the second-most popular TV show, Family Ties, and in the No. 1 movie of the year, Back to the Future (not to mention Teen Wolf, a schlocky werewolf comedy that rode the BTTF wave to a No. 23 finish).
However, as the new Apple TV+ documentary Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie demonstrates, Fox’s life has come to be defined more by a disease that is out of his control than by the career he crafted. Directed by Oscar and Emmy winner Davis Guggenheim, the film could have been a standard one where Fox and his celebrity friends talk about his career, extolling his winning personality and his positivity in the face of living with Parkinson’s disease the past 30 years.
Instead, Fox and Guggenheim let Fox do almost all the talking, whether through a direct-to-camera interview, candid moments with his family and others, narrating stories about his life, or scenes from his many projects. While all of these methods are illuminating in one way of another, Guggenheim’s clever usage of actors to re-create stories from Fox’s life, as well as scenes from different Fox projects to emphasize real-life moments, are the most effective in crafting a compelling narrative.
Those stories are consistently interesting, whether it’s about him pulling double duty with Family Ties and Back to the Future, where he only got 2-3 hours of sleep each night while filming both over the course of three months; or talking about his bad behavior in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, when he let success go to his head. Fox also talks about how the idea of being still was foreign to him for many years, and Guggenheim illustrates this with countless scenes of the diminutive-but-athletic actor running, jumping, and flipping in a variety of roles.
Anyone who has not seen Fox in recent years may be shocked by the degree to which his Parkinson’s has progressed, as he’s shown to have difficulty walking and having to do special vocal exercises to speak clearly. But lest you think Fox is asking for pity, he’s the first one to dispel that notion. Despite clear frustration with the more onerous parts of the disease, he’s always ready with a joke to deflect from uncomfortable situations, and readily acknowledges what a blessed life he has led.
Still paints a complete picture of Fox the man, someone who’s been to the height of fame and brought low by a disease that can be managed but not cured. Like all of us, he contains multitudes, and the film shows all sides of him, even if it’s his affability that shines through time and again.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie debuts on Apple TV+ on May 12. It will also screen at Alamo Drafthouse Lake Highlands.