Movie Review: Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

I seem to have reached the unenviable age where not only my body is starting to fall apart but so are those of the people who are close to me. In just the past few years, one cousin and two friends have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, that debilitating and so-far incurable brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements, such as shaking and stiffness, that affect one’s balance and coordination.

Like many people, I used to think that Parkinson’s only affected old people but Michael J. Fox proved us wrong. The actor received his diagnosis when he was just 29. Fox, though, wasn’t the type to let the disease, or anything else for that matter, slow him down. For a number of years, he hid his condition from the viewing public, popping pills like candy to control the tics in his left hand, then making sure he was always holding onto something in that hand whenever he was on camera. When those tricks stopped working, he came clean with us, but even that didn’t slow him down. He took on roles that incorporated the erratic movements into his character, as he did when he played attorney Louis Canning on TV’s THE GOOD WIFE and then reprising the role a few years later on its spinoff series, THE GOOD FIGHT, although that character’s condition was due to a different factor. Off-camera, he became a tireless advocate for more government money into Parkinson’s research, and he appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in 1999. His Michael J. Fox Foundation has led a US$100-million effort to identify the biological markers of the disease, and he has been an active campaigner for stem cell research as a potential treatment. Even with all this going on in his life, as well as being a husband to actress and fellow FAMILY TIES actor, Tracy Pollan, and a father to their four children, Fox has also found the time to write four books. His life so far has been anything but still.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH; HE NAMED ME MALALA) offers audiences an intimate and touching portrait of Fox with his new documentary, STILL: A MICHAEL J. FOX MOVIE. Combining one-on-one interviews, impeccably curated archival footage, quiet moments with his family and scripted elements, STILL tells the life story, in Fox’s own words, of the pint-sized, high school dropout from Canada whose meteoric rise from obscurity to TV and Hollywood box office gold took a sudden turn that no one could ever have imagined. Fox, however, is an incurable optimist, and although his journey has had its share of bumps along the way, which he doesn’t shy away from recounting here, he keeps picking himself up and moving forward — literally. Guggenheim shows Fox working with his personal trainer on how to still his mind — another reference to the film’s title. He’s not always successful and one scene shows him falling down while walking on the street, his brain not sending the correct signal to his legs. During one interview session, we see the makeup artist applying cover to a bruise on his face. Fox explains that he had fallen over, something he does a lot, hitting a piece of furniture on the way down and breaking his cheekbone in the process. Ever the self-deprecating comic, Fox says, “It’s part of the deal that I fall. Gravity is real, even if you only fall from my height.”

Watching the film, it’s hard not to feel both sympathy and admiration for the man, who is now 61 but still retains the boyish charm that propelled his career. He’s in constant pain, he tells the camera, but he’s not a quitter. He’s also a realist, which is probably why he agreed to make the film. He knows that he may not beat the disease but he’s going to do everything he can to make sure it doesn’t beat someone else. That’s who he is.

For those of us who remember the ’80s, Alex P Keaton and Marty McFly will always be etched in our collective memories, but perhaps it’s good that we can see him this way too. He may be broken and bruised, but he’s still Michael J. Fox.

STILL: A MICHAEL J. FOX MOVIE is streaming now on Apple TV+. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s still well worth watching.

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