Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
By: Adam Freed
A documentary film about a man who will inevitably die due to Parkinson’s Disease has every right to be depressing. Most people with air in their lungs and a heart in their chest would quite frankly excuse the doom and gloom of it all. The fact that Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie refuses to feel sorry for itself or its principal subject is what makes it such a revelation. Just shy of the midway point of the 2023 film release calendar, Apple TV’s Still firmly sits in the driver’s seat for best documentary feature. This is a massive story about a diminutive Canadian man who bears his soul regarding regret, grief and the salvation found in true love.
Almost all sentient beings in the 1980’s will likely remember the stranglehold that Michael J. Fox held on pop culture at the time. Not only did Fox star in Family Ties, one of the most beloved television comedies of the decade, but at one point in 1985 starred in both of the top two films in the box office at the same time. His legacy work is of course the Robert Zemeckis time travel triumph Back to the Future, which he followed up with Teen Wolf, a film that benefited greatly from being released atop the wave of Fox’s monstrous fame. Both credits are mentioned, but not bludgeoned by Still director Davis Guggenheim, who expertly weaves narratively appropriate archival film clips with subjectively captured Fox interviews and a small number of needed recreations to tell as three dimensional a story as has been accomplished on a living subject in years.
The level of access granted by Fox, his wife, and his adult children provides a critical dimension to the story of a family living with a degenerative diagnosis. Not for one second does Michael J. Fox seek pity, quite the opposite really. The most heartfelt and heartbreaking moments of this film occur in a kitchen and on a city sidewalk. Seeing Fox lovingly teased by his adoring family but then witnessing him fall while turning to say hello to a passing well wisher are both equally relevant windows into the harsh realities of living with Parkinson's.
The familiar trappings of living biographic films is that they often become controlled by the subject, and therefore act as a greatest hits album of the stories that shed the brightest light upon whatever narrative is being pedaled. Michael J. Fox hasn’t the time or the patience to hide his demons, his regrets or most meaningfully his unabashed passion and admiration for his wife, Tracy Pollan, a once successful television and film actor in her own right, who has made the care for her husband into her opus. Behold the power of great documentary filmmaking and the power of love. Shameless Huey Lewis pun aside, no script, no amount of acting talent can outclass, witnessing a mutual love between two people this emotionally moving. A whispered “til death do us part” is enough to crumble the most hard hearted of us all. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie will be seen by millions thanks to the reach of its distributor. The glorious ambition of this project is that audiences not only view Fox’s story, but in turn pay forward the compassion and forgiveness found therein.