SXSW Review – Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
The film opens in 1990 at a hotel in Florida. Woken up by what Michael J. Fox thought was a moth fluttering against his cheek, it was instead a trembling pinkie finger animating itself, and he could not get it to stop. Thinking of why this might be happening, hungover after a wild night with Woody Harrelson, no explanation seemed to be the cause of this new, unwelcome, shaking finger.
Flashing forward to the present day, Michael J. Fox sits in the body that the shaking finger foretold. He makes it immediately clear that he will have no pity, and if there is any, he will not let it get to him. The film’s opening ends with Fox leaving his condo building with his physical therapist, walking with his Parkinson’s, and fully aware that the sight of him doing this can come across as unnerving. Even as he falls after someone recognizes him, he keeps that comedic charm, stating, “You knocked me off my feet.”
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023) is much more than a documentary. It is based on his books and, of course, his life. It is told through narration by Fox himself and interviews between Fox and director Davis Guggenheim. It also looks at Fox’s present: his family life, his daily struggles with Parkinson’s, and how he uses his disease to drive research for it.
The most ingenious part of Still is how Fox’s story is depicted on screen. There are some reenactments using actors, but as far as Fox’s depiction, we never see the actor’s face. We see footage from Fox’s television and film career used in place of reenactments whenever possible. It is incredible how many pieces of footage fit together seamlessly and give off the same emotions as what was happening in his life. The way everything works together so well is undoubtedly due to editor Michael Harte, and Guggenheim has been praising his effort at post-screening Q&As like the one at SXSW.
Growing up in the 80s, Michael J. Fox was a big star and a heartthrob starting with Family Ties and then jumping to Back to the Future (1985) and Teen Wolf (1985). I was in elementary school then, but I vividly remember seeing that show and those movies. What interested me about that portion of the story was how against casting Fox in Family Ties was by creator Gary David Goldberg and then, seemingly wanting to keep Fox for himself, preventing him from being cast in Back to the Future, only to give in when Eric Stoltz was not working for director Steven Spielberg. The whole lead-up to Fox being cast in Family Ties defines the terms “starving artist” and “struggling actor.”
The latter half of his career was topped off by the television series Spin City, which allowed him to spend more time with his family, but inevitably led to him disclosing his Parkinson’s to the public. His disease had progressed enough that his tricks and medication were not working as well anymore.
Michael J. Fox is an American icon and a national treasure, and Still only reemphasizes that status. This man has the comedic chops and sarcastic wit to still act with the greats and make bank if it was not for the progression of his disease. Fox has learned many lessons over his lifetime that have come with his fame, but his wife, Tracy Pollan, and his family have called him back to reality and what is important in life. Still is an entertaining and unique documentary that reveals the early life of the star Michael J. Fox, how he became famous, and, in a sort of way, reintroduces him to those who grew up with him. Plainly, it is one of the best documentaries of the year.