Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is sincere and affecting without being solemn

Michael J. Fox recounts his 1980s heyday and private struggle to come to terms with his Parkinson’s diagnosis in this clip-heavy but moving documentary.

10 May 2023

By Henry K Miller

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023)Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023) © Courtesy of Apple TV+
Sight and Sound

This both is and is not a film about Parkinson’s. Fox was diagnosed at the height of his fame, coming off the Back to the Future trilogy, in 1991, but the story he wants to tell, he says early on, is not a simple one of a career cut short in its prime. Fox was already disillusioned with Hollywood, and Still is a nuanced meditation on the price of success. Whether that is meant to include Parkinson’s is left unsaid: the disease is still incompletely understood, but what the film shows is a young Brat Pack-adjacent star working and (more euphemistically) partying too hard. 

Fox narrates, talks directly to the camera, and is shown going about his day, and the film’s subtitle seems about right: this is the story Fox wants to tell. The director is Davis Guggenheim, though, best known for An Inconvenient Truth (2006), who uses a mixture of home video, archive footage, and clips from Fox’s acting performances – plus some uncanny reconstructions, sometimes woven in with and difficult to distinguish from the other material. The clips are largely chosen to resonate with the film’s main themes: overwork and success-worship in the 1980s, then secrecy in the 1990s. These are often so pointed that it is again hard to tell whether they are real, or if the writers were in the know. 

The heart of the film is Fox and his family’s private struggle to come to terms with the disease. In 1988 he had married his Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan, whose career, as he admits, instantly took a back seat: she raised their children while he was shooting movies, still in semi-denial about the diagnosis and self-medicating with alcohol and pills. At one point Fox says he saw Parkinson’s as karmic retribution, but this is to provide insight into his state of mind, rather than an attempt to moralise the inexplicable. Fox pulled back from movies to the more manageable routine of television, and went public about his illness in 1998, while starring in the sitcom Spin City (1996-2000): here the clips show him working to mask the symptoms.

Still does not dwell on Fox’s subsequent career, including his fundraising, and it could have said more about his later television roles – notably his choice to play a lawyer who shamelessly exploits his tardive dyskinesia to win over juries in The Good Wife (2009-16) and the spin-off The Good Fight (2017-22). There are other points where the film might have probed deeper, but Still is sincere and affecting without being solemn.

 ► Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is in UK cinemas and available to stream on Apple TV+ from 12 May. 

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