Still: A Michael J Fox Movie


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Still: A Michael J Fox Movie
"There’s an enviable mix of the playful and the poignant." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The pace of Davis Guggenheim’s engaging documentary about Michael J Fox takes its cue from the velocity with which the Canadian star tackled his career and life - whether it was working round the clock in early roles or getting into numerous fender benders. Doing things at a lick, in fact, is something the quick-thinking star clearly still prefers, which is just one of the reasons why his diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease at the early age of 29 was so devastating for him. The condition, which worsens over time, not only gives rise to the tremors most people associate with it but also results in slow movement, balance problems and can cause psychological problems including memory loss.

At numerous points in this film, which mixes candid interview footage with Fox alongside memoir and re-enactment plus carefully chosen clips from his back catalogue, the notion of speed and slowing down is raised. It’s particularly evident in sessions where Fox is seen with a physical therapist, who encourages him to take a breather when walking so he can rebalance himself.

The use of re-enactment - cleverly shot from the back to retain the believability - helps to give the reminiscences an immediacy. The sense of intimacy is also added to by Fox’s recollections about his marriage to Tracy Pollan - who he met on Family Ties - along with home video and the film doesn’t shy away from the problems he had with alcohol, although it maintains its breezy sweep. Sharp editing from Michael Harte, intercuts moments from his film career that indicate his mental state - with The Secret Of My Success proving particularly useful for angst - so that the film has a weight of meaning, both speaking to the star’s career and his personal life.

In between interview segments the film tracks chronologically through his career, noting just how broke he was when he was starting out. “I enlisted Ronald McDonald as my exclusive nutritionist,” Fox notes in a typically witty voiceover aside, as he recalls the tiny apartment he lived in when he first went to LA.

Editing also comes to the fore as Fox talks about the way he initially hid his diagnosis from his employers and fans. He notes: “An actor’s burning condition is to spend as much time as possible being someone else.” So masking his condition became a part of the performance, generally by holding something in his ‘bad’ hand. In a montage cut together by Harte we see this in action, able to spot the shake that nobody did until Fox announced it in 1998 - seven years after his diagnosis.

There’s an enviable mix of the playful and the poignant. The film doesn’t shy away from the pain or difficulties that living with this sort of long-term condition has brought but leavens this with the indomitable humour of Fox himself. He may be a little guy - something the film also repeatedly highlights - but as a campaigner for research, he continues to have a big impact.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2023
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The improbable tale of a short kid from a Canadian army base who became the darling of 1980s Hollywood — only to find the course of his life altered by a stunning diagnosis. What happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease?
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Director: Davis Guggenheim

Year: 2023

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

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