“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” an engaging and intimate window into the star’s complex life

Apparently, the credit goes to Michael Harte.

It was the idea of ​​the editor of “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” says the documentary’s director, Davis Guggenheim, to use scenes from the beloved actor’s TV series and movies to tell the story of Fox’s increasingly complicated life.

The choice makes “Still” — which debuts this week on Apple TV+ after its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival — a distinct viewing experience.

Of course, if it weren’t for Fox, 61 — the former “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future” star who, at 29, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease — being so open in about his battle with suffering, so vulnerable as he reflects on his journey, “Still” wouldn’t be nearly as impactful as it is.

“Still” opens with Parkinson’s hungover morning in a Florida hotel room when Fox, in the middle of filming 1991’s “Doc Hollywood,” notices his little finger twitching.

“The shaking was a message,” he says. “From the future.”

Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “Waiting for Superman”) soon takes us back to Fox as a young kid who found excitement after joining his school’s drama club and then being cast in this and that. Then there’s the move to California to try his luck in Hollywood, where the hope is that he’ll have an advantage: being able to pass as characters a few years younger than he actually is.

He scored some roles but missed out on the big ones. (Fox says it was “close” to landing 1980’s “Ordinary People,” but allowing director Robert Redford to floss during Fox’s audition wasn’t a great sign.)

As “Still” tells it, Fox was barely getting by, having sold the furniture in his studio and obtained what nutrients he could from jam packets, when he won the role of the ambitious, adult-like teenager Alex P. Keaton. sitcom “Family Ties”. It was a huge break, and one that defied the odds, considering one of his executive producers, Gary David Goldberg, wanted nothing to do with him at first, despite others pushing him for this role.

Fox got a bunch of laughs in the audition — one of many cleverly recreated moments in “Still” — and was on her way to stardom.

The film covers the crazy life he managed while juggling filming “Family Ties” and Steven Spielberg’s “Future” simultaneously.

The film’s easiest task: reminding us, in case we’ve forgotten, how charming Fox can be, regardless of whether he’s working from a script. For example, we’re treated to the moment when, while accepting an Emmy in 1986, he exclaimed, “I feel like 4 feet tall!”

“Still” is at its sweetest in capturing the romance that blossomed between Fox and “Family Ties” guest star Tracy Pollan, Guggenheim and Harte, using a healthy amount of their scenes together to illustrate what was going on in their real lives at the time. times.

Michael J. Fox and his wife, Tracy Pollan, appear in a scene from “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie.” (Courtesy of Apple TV+)

(Another example of their approach: using a scene from 1987’s “The Secret of My Success” to dramatize the moment when Goldberg told Fox he could do “Back to the Future” as long as he maintained his commitment to his show .)

When “Still” finally dives fully into Fox’s experience with Parkinson’s — the diagnosis, hiding from almost everyone while continuing to land film roles and then the lead role in another sitcom, ” Spin City,” revealing to the public that he has it in 1998. , seven years after his diagnosis — is the most affecting.

This is largely due to the amount of time Fox spends speaking directly to the camera, recounting those times, but also—and perhaps more importantly—talking about the day-to-day struggle with Parkinson’s and its progression.

Uncontrollable movement. The waterfalls. Period of substance abuse. The pain.

If there’s anything missing from “Still,” it’s others speaking in the room, offering their perspectives on Fox at various points. However, this is not the film Guggenheim wanted to make.

Instead, we get time with Fox interacting with Tracy and their kids—in several heartwarming moments, he’s scolded for his texting habits—and we see him work with a physical therapist to walk short distances. The last scenes are very illustrative of his daily struggle.

Michael J. Fox enjoys a moment with his wife Tracy Pollan and their children Sam and Esme Fox "Next up: A Michael J. Fox movie." (Courtesy of Apple TV+)
Michael J. Fox enjoys a moment with his wife Tracy Pollan and their children Sam and Esme Fox in “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie.” (Courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Still” is an ironic name for this film, given that Fox, by his own admission, could rarely stop moving long before Parkinson entered the film. It’s a theme mined successfully by Guggenheim, whose credits also include “It Might Get Loud” and “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates.”

With Fox as a major collaborator, he gave us something pretty special in “Still.” In his director’s statement, Guggenheim says Fox asked him for only one thing: “No violins.”

You can’t help but empathize with Fox while watching “Still,” but this isn’t a pity party — it’s a celebration of a life well lived, even if that life wasn’t always something out of movies or TV.

“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie”

Where: Apple TV+.

When: May 12.

Assessed: R for language.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Stars (out of four): 3.5.

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