THE STORY – At age 16, an undersized army brat landed a part as a 12-year-old on a Canadian television show. Confident he could make it in the U.S., he moved into a tiny apartment in the slums of Beverly Hills. Three years later, he was struggling to scrape by and ready to retreat. But then came his breakout roles — Alex P. Keaton on the sitcom Family Ties and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy — and a superstar was born. Michael J. Fox dominated the industry for most of the 1980s and ’90s, but a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease at age 29 threatened to derail his career.
THE CAST – Michael J. Fox
THE TEAM – Davis Guggenheim (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes
If you were to enter my house, one of the first things you would see is a large “Back to the Future” poster on my wall. When entering my living space, you would also discover a copy of Michael J. Fox’s autobiography, “No Time Like the Future,” a copy of the “Back to the Future” screenplay, and a mini model of the Delorean. It may not surprise anyone that when the Sundance Film Festival lineup announced “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” as a part of its lineup, it instantly became my most anticipated film of the festival, with the actor being a significant influence in my life and a defining part of why I have fallen in love with cinema. Even with such high expectations, this candid and fascinating documentary still managed to take me by surprise in such a positive way.
If “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” was a 90-minute documentary purely filming the primary interview with Michael and showing his current situation dealing with Parkinson’s disease, it still would have been a compelling film about a well-loved figure in the film industry. However, the craft of the documentary goes beyond a formal interview, with a presentation style that had to be meticulously planned to work as effectively as it does here. Not only are the recreational sequences so well-crafted, with a remarkable lookalike of Fox selling the re-enactment scenes, but they are also blended with archival footage from a range of performances, adding an element of smoothness and fun to the overall presentation of his story. Clips from projects such as “Teen Wolf” and “Family Ties” would be used out of context to instead fit into the flow of the story Michael was telling during the interview. One can only imagine how long it must have taken the editors to cycle through his filmography and, find the perfect clips for each moment, then piece them together as efficiently as it was done here.
“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” showcases Michael’s current living situation in a way that feels grounded and normal rather than a heartbreaking tragedy. When Michael falls over after being a little bit too enthusiastic on his feet, he uses humor around a passerby to break the tension and lighten the moment up. The contrast between the Michael J. Fox, who was scared of losing his career and sense of control at the young age of 29 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the Michael J. Fox, who is now taking small steps – literally and mentally – to improve himself in his later years is staggering. It shows the strength of one of the most beloved figures in Hollywood. Davis Guggenheim’s documentary focuses on Michael J. Fox in the past rather than in the present because that portion of the story is still far from over.
There is a reason why Michael won the Jean Hershold Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is still loved by many in the film industry. “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” captures the heart of this extraordinary human being in a short and sweeping runtime. It doesn’t need to be a documentary that presents something we don’t already know; it just needs to be a time capsule that reflects on the best moments of Michael’s path and his positive outlook on life, which serves as an inspiration to all of us. From that perspective, this film is perfect for fans and admirers of one of Hollywood’s greats.