Michael J. Fox is clearly a person who enjoys control, or at least the very thought of it. He was the center of attention through his 20s and the star of a hit sitcom in Family Ties. He parlayed that gig into being the face of Back to the Future, which would go on to be a massive cultural touchstone. This is also evident in his decision to keep his Parkinson’s diagnosis private for over seven years before finally holding a press conference to reveal it to the world. Fox didn’t want to be viewed differently. Simply put, he wanted to keep working and moving (no pun intended).
Davis Guggenheim’s STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie — one of the most critically acclaimed releases at Sundance this year — is refreshing for the simple fact that it plainly allows Michael J. Fox to tell the story of his humble beginnings as an actor, his meteoric rise as a teen heartthrob, and his eventual Parkinson’s diagnosis. There are no talking heads present here. The film replaces them with an engaging compilation of clips from Fox’s filmography; many are recontextualized to fit Fox’s narration, and some deliberately undercut his words. It’s crafty stuff, and it makes for an informatively humanistic documentary that races by.
The Oscar-winning director behind An Inconvenient Truth has Fox sit before the camera, look straight at the viewer, and speak about his incredible career with wit, humor, and honesty. The film has the uninterrupted quality of an Errol Morris documentary as it gets you so wrapped up in the story and the deceptively intuitive way it’s being told that you almost feel like you’re watching a movie within a movie.
The 61-year-old actor is obviously rendered disabled by his disease. A few times, Guggenheim has to pause so Fox can pop one of his dopamine pills in order to release the muscles in his face so he can speak and react coherently. He calls the time (mere minutes) between popping the pill and recalibrating himself as “waiting for the bus.” Once his eyes reappear with his boyish glow and his speech becomes more intelligible, he remarks to the documentarian, “I’m on the bus, I’m putting change in the jar now.”
Serving as the connective tissue to clips of Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, and Doc Hollywood are reenactments of Fox’s youth and other pivotal moments in his life, such as when he awoke and, for the first time, noticed his pinkie finger wouldn’t stop twitching. Another great sequence is recreated to show him leaving the house at 9:30am to be driven to the set of Family Ties and finishing up around 6pm only to be driven by another driver to Robert Zemeckis’ film set and then finally taxied home by yet another driver in the wee hours of the morning. Rinse, repeat, movie star.
The commonality between Fox then and now is his inability to pause. In many of his projects, he was constantly running, being chased, or having to escape perilous situations. As a young actor off-camera, he was darting from one set or interview to the next. Now, as an older man still harboring the spirit of a young boy, he forces himself to move faster than his tremor-ridden body can often handle. He’s broken his wrist and his arm in recent years from falls. At one point, we see him stumble and fall while shuffling in front of his apartment complex. “You knocked me to my feet,” he tells a female passerby who stops to see if he’s all right. He is. He gets right back up and going. “I got shit to do.”
If there’s a negative, it’s that STILL ends as it’s getting started. It leaves you wanting more introspection and footnotes. About 25 minutes of the documentary is explicitly devoted to Fox’s life with Parkinson’s, and it just skims over the actor’s anguish, his wife’s commitment to helping him, the struggles with being impaired while raising a family, and maybe most of all, the impressive amount of lobbying and charity work he’s done for Parkinson’s research. What Guggenheim manages to mine, and what Fox is compelled to reveal, serves as a streamlined cinematic memoir, underscored by its style and the sheer likability of its subject.
NOTE: STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie is now streaming exclusively on Apple TV+.
Directed by Davis Guggenheim.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!