(Check out Melanie Addington’s movie review of Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, it opens in select theaters as well as on Apple TV+ on May 12. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie follows the story of the beloved actor’s journey with Parkinson’s. Hiding his disability for the first nine years, Michael J. Fox was only 29, a new star in Hollywood, and suddenly had to pretend every moment of his life on or off camera.
But for this actor, risking it all to make it, had already set his life on a course to be prepared.
Born on a Canadian army base, Fox recounts his early days in the sit down interview with the director, Davis Guggenheim. Like most, he went to Los Angeles to “make it” and very nearly starved to death before the impossible luck of this effervescent optimist broke through. In the documentary it is revealed he was starving and eating jam packets from the local IHOP to keep going while auditioning when the role of Michael P. Keaton in Family Ties arrived at his doorstep, changing everything for him. His skyrocket to fame happened quickly after that in his early 20s and like many in Hollywood, he had a wild time.
But the true grit of the documentary is not in retelling the actor’s make it or break it fame story but in the details of the love he found with his co-star Tracy Pollan on Family Ties and their life together as well as the entire reason he decided to do the film now.
In his own words, he shares that his world is getting smaller. Parkinson’s is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder. A lifelong condition that never improves but increasingly can create tremors, rigidity, slow movement and balance issues as well as other non motor symptoms such as memory deficits, mood, and more bodily function failures. Every person with Parkinson’s experiences this differently.
For Fox it was a slight tremor in his pinky when on a set that led him to get checked out. Today, as he shows on the film as he goes for a walk and falls into another pedestrian, the ability to keep balanced is limited. But his humor when he runs into her reminds us that while a neurodegenerative disorder can change your life, it doesn’t have to change who you truly are. For Fox, his kindness and sharp wit appear strong. The film does not touch upon his foundation work much but focuses much more on his family life, showing his children, what limitations he has had and what the Parkinson’s and mostly Pollan did to make him a better person.
Loss of facial expressions for Fox was a realization that now was the time to tell his story. As an actor, the loss is likely more than he can even get across to us on camera, but he also attempts in his audio book, which we hear him attempting to record.
The film also takes some creative license with some scripted scenes reenacting moments in Fox’s past, particularly work on Back to the Future. But it flows seamlessly with the unscripted moments. Whether you know someone with Parkinson’s or are just a fan of Fox, the film is one that gives you a chance to laugh, cry, commiserate and be in awe of someone for being so open and raw.
As someone with a neurodegenerative disorder (I have Multiple Sclerosis), his words do not ring hollow. There is something about a disability mid-life diagnosis that shifts your perspective and makes you take advantage of what really matters in life. For Fox, that was his family but also using his fame to shed light on Parkinson’s and let others learn from him. While he has done that over the years, this documentary brings a new familiarity with his day to day and an intimacy that many with these types of disorders struggle to explain or showcase.
Masking, or a term, those with a disability that can be hidden for a short while, is a common experience for those with neurodegenerative disorders. When the symptoms become unhidable, your life shifts, much like the moments after your diagnosis. Fox confessed that it took someone explaining to him that his guilt about trying to make others feel better if they feel bad for his condition is weighing him down and that he doesn’t always have to be “Michael J. Fox.”
His legacy is more than just an actor who rose to fame in the 80s. He has a family who keeps him grounded and his youngest daughter was born 10 years after his disease had progressed. But he and his wife have also focused on raising over $2 billion in Parkinson’s research.
In the end, Still reminds us to be present and to be shaken awake and kept focused on each moment to live life and whatever cards you are dealt with grace and optimism.
– Melanie Addington
Apple TV+; David Guggenheim; Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie documentary movie review