Not allowing misfortune to shrink their feelings of self-worth, especially after garnering long-lasting success as a larger-than-life public personality, isn’t an easy feat for many Hollywood stars. But Michael J. Fox has long used humor to contend with the Parkinson’s diagnosis he received during the height of his career in the 1980’s and ’90s, which eventually slowed down the trajectory of his professional life.
The Emmy Award-winning sitcom actor’s prolific rise to become one of the ’80s most beloved young adult personalities before he was diagnosed with the chronic degenerative disorder in 1991 is chronicled in the new documentary, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. The feature was directed by Oscar-winning documentarian, Davis Guggenheim. The filmmaker allows the actor’s natural charisma and continued upbeat personality to shine through during the entire feature, even when he’s reflecting on the most challenging aspects of his life.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie incorporates documentary, archival and scripted elements to recount the titular Golden Globe-winning actor’s extraordinary story in his own words. The performer reflects on his life, growing up as an undersized kid from a Canadian army base who rose to the heights of stardom as a teen and young adult in 1980s Hollywood.
The account of Fox’s public life as the star of such hit films as the Back to the Future trilogy and Teen Wolf, as well as the acclaimed sitcom Family Ties, is full of nostalgic thrills and cinematic gloss. But his success in his movie and television career began to unravel in the years that followed his diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease in 1991, when he was just 30-years-old.
Intimate and honest, and produced with unprecedented access to the actor and his family, the film chronicles Fox’s personal and professional triumphs and travails. The narrative explores what happens when an eternal optimist confronts an incurable disease.
Guggenheim, who’s known for helming such acclaimed documentaries An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud, a biographical rock music feature, brought his signature filmmaking style to emotionally and relatably chronicle Fox’s professional and personal achievements and struggles. Through an intimate interview with the SAG Award-winning actor and sentimental archival clips and current interactions with his family and doctors, the filmmaker’s distinctive visual style helps the documentary deliver an essence of the performer’s energy.
Julia Liu and Clair Popkin, who served as the cinematographers on Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, brilliantly captured Guggenheim’s vision to capture the titular performer working with a pace that never lets him pause, no matter what obstacles he’s facing. The cinematographers masterfully captured both intimate close-up shots of the actor as he animatedly recalls balancing his busy work schedule with wide shots of him determinedly walking on his own in the present day. As a result, the film enthrallingly frames Fox’s resolve to always appreciate the success he’s had in his life, while also working to overcome the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease.
Fox’s nostalgic recollection of his career, from his initial desire to pursue acting, to learning to cope with fame and publicly hiding his Parkinson’s diagnosis throughout most of the ’90s becomes somewhat standard in its storytelling throughout the documentary’s storytelling, however. Guggenheim and the actor predictably debate why the latter wanted to tell his story now, as they also contemplate the key moments of his life.
However, the helmer and the documentary’s editor, Michael Harte, effectively balance Fox’s humor and poignancy in the single-subject documentary, in which the peformer is the only talking head subject. However, his family is seen accompanying him to his intense rehabilitation sessions and doctors appointments. Their on-screen presence highlights their unwavering support in allowing him to contend with his prognosis through his unique blend of jokes and more emotional reflection.
Guggenheim, Harte and the film’s archival team also illustrate Fox’s biography with a unique blending of voiceover, staged reenactments, and clips from Fox’s various on-screen appearances. Excerpts from his 1987 comedy movie, The Secret of My Success are cleverly used to illustrate parts of his struggles to launch his career, for instance.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie also ingeniously shows clips from Family Ties as his character, Alex, becomes exhausted by a new job, which mirror reenactments that depict Fox’s busy schedule shooting both the NBC sitcom and Back to the Future. Also, clips from For Love or Money highlight the effort he was putting into hiding his Parkinson’s symptoms before he he decided to share his diagnosis with the public.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is the rare documentary about a prominent Hollywood figure that doesn’t superficially glamorize the celebrity’s entire life. Instead of glossing over the titular actor’s struggles with his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Guggenheim crafted an honest look into Fox’s life through sentimental archival clips and current interactions with his family. With the help of Liu and Popkin’s intimate visual capturing of the performer’s determined will to survive and Harte’s expert editing, Fox proves he’s still an inspiration for everyone who’s determined to follow their dreams.
Apple TV+ will begin streaming Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie this Friday, May 12, 2023.
Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.
Here’s the trailer of the film.