Few actors stand as tall in Hollywood as Michael J. Fox. The iconic actor broke into the industry at a young age and seemingly never looked back. Not only did he become a legendary TV Performer, but Back to the Future remains a testament to his talent. The iconoclast shocked the world with news of his diagnosis of Parkinson’s in 1998. However, even more shocking, he had lived with the disorder since he was 29. The icon reflects on his career in Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie while showing the difficult life he lives. This behind-the-scenes view of his life and career highlights the importance of his activism for the past twenty-five years.
Michael J. Fox grew up in Canada but quickly found himself in Hollywood. After scoring the role of a lifetime as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, he became a superstar. He led two comedies to box office success in 1984, with Back to the Future and Teen Wolf becoming instant classics. In the following years, he met his wife, Tracy Pollan, on Family Ties and continued to rise. However, his Parkinson’s diagnosis changed his future career.
Documentarian Davis Guggenheim partners with Fox to tell his life story. Using iconic footage from Fox’s on-screen career, Guggenheim creates unusual recreations of Fox’s highs and lows. They never shy away from controversy, with Fox owning his penchant for drinking at a young age. Together, they confront Fox’s struggles with substances and self-destructive behavior after his diagnosis. Guggenheim helps Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie rise above the bio-doc format. Instead, we understand the incredible toll of Parkinson’s on a person’s life from the beginning to the end of the film.
Guggenheim’s choice to utilize Fox’s work to recreate his life story also pays dividends in other ways. Fox, more than most celebrities, grew up in front of our eyes. From a young age, he was already on television and seemed destined for superstardom. With Back to the Future, he created an iconic character and performance for all time. Fox will always be Marty McFly and Alex P. Keaton as pop culture evolves. He is frozen in time as a teen with an entire life ahead of him. The reality of his situation, and the early diagnosis of his disease, stole decades of laughter and joy from audiences. It stole even more from a man with a loving family. Keying into this reality allows Still: A Michael J. Fox Story to land its emotional framing.
While Fox provides the narration (and wrote the film as well), Guggenheim captures intimate moments with family and physical therapists as well. While Fox continues to show sharp wit, you can feel his extreme vulnerabilities on display. His self-doubt creeps into the story and makes Still far more than a biopic. Instead, it forces the audience to wrestle with how legacy shapes our view of celebrity.
Fox has found a humbleness that becomes impossible to ignore. His Parkinson’s has progressed in a predictable and heartbreaking way. The mere act of getting out of bed appears challenging. Watching him fall in the street and hearing about a moment that shattered his cheek are horrifying. There’s a fragility to life that instantly transfers onto the audience. Even someone like Fox carried self-doubt before, and he proves that he has remained the same person through it all. Rather than wallow in his diagnosis, Fox takes every moment to celebrate what he can do that day.
Still‘s impeccable writing helps Fox’s narration strike at the heart of his struggle. You cannot listen to him discuss his situation honestly without wanting to help. Guggenheim makes Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie into a special experience that should quickly become a must-watch film. Not only does it prove the versatility, brilliance, and humor of Fox the performer, but it makes us consider the man. It is a gift to have this film and this moment to celebrate a true hero and icon.