‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ documentary review: A sincere portrait of the ‘Back to the Future’ star

Davis Guggenheim strikes up a conversation with the ‘Family Ties’ actor who does not hold any reservations while delving into his career choices, personal life, and activism

May 12, 2023 05:06 pm | Updated 07:02 pm IST

A still from ‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’

A still from ‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ | Photo Credit: Apple TV+

Michael J. Fox was the epitome of Hollywood fame in the 1980s after his breakthrough role as Alex P. Keaton in the 1982 sitcom Family Ties. Robert Zemeckis’ time travel franchise Back to the Futureand Rod Daniels’ Teen Wolf made him untouchable; his impeccable comedic timing and fresh looks made him a darling of late-night television and a favourite among the audience.

When he was feeling like he was on top of this world, or Hollywood Hills at the very least, he would be forced to confront a diagnosis of a degenerative neurological condition called Parkinson’s disease — a brain disorder that causes unintended and uncontrollable movements like shaking, stiffness and difficulty with balance and coordination.

In the latest Apple TV+ documentary directed by Academy Award-winner Davis Guggenheim, the eternally optimistic actor looks back at his rise in Hollywood and how he has come to terms with living with a chronic illness.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (English)
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan, Danny Irizarry, Hannah Galway,
Runtime: 94 minutes
Storyline: A short kid from a Canadian army base becomes the international pop culture star of the 1980s, only to find the course of his life altered by a stunning diagnosis. The actor who is an incurable optimist is forced to confront an incurable disease.

The actor’s charm and comedic timing that propelled his career is at full display as he sits down to narrate his life’s story. Taking his 2020 book No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality as a template, Guggenheim strikes up a conversation with the actor who does not hold any reservations while delving into his career choices, personal life, and activism.

Very early in the documentary, we witness the actor lose his balance and fall onto the pavement after a cordial interaction with a fan. While he is quick to brush it off with a rather funny joke and continue in his stride, one cannot but feel helpless and heartbroken. Michael, almost anticipating this reaction, drives it home that this documentary is not an exercise intended to garner pity and the audience might agree as this feels like the actor’s philosophical investigation into the meaning of life.

A still from ‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’

A still from ‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ | Photo Credit: Apple TV+

Michael kicks off his narration by talking about his decision to drop out of school and make a move from Canada to the United States in pursuit of his dream of acting. He recollects the days he spent living in a cramped apartment and how he got managed to secure his big break on the sets of Family Ties. There is still a tinge of excitement in his voice when he talks about his time shuttling between the sets of the sitcom and Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future; before Parkinson’s, he did not know what “still” meant he quips in an interaction with Guggenheim.

The actor kept his diagnosis a secret until 1998, but looking back at clips from his movies like Life With Mikey (1993), one cannot miss the actor using props in his left hand to mask its trembling.

Michael is affable while recounting his relationship with his wife Tracy Pollan and the gratitude he has for his family spills over the screen when moments from their living room are broadcast.

What sets Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie head and shoulders above its contemporaries is its style of editing. While it has a typical set of re-enactments, archival material and talking head shots, it is the use of scenes from Michael’s movies reminiscent of his real-life emotions and reaction imposed over his voiceover that give the impression that Michael played himself through his characters all along.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is currently streaming on Apple TV+

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