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‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ Review: Davis Guggenheim’s Deeply Satisfying Portrait of a Legend



When Betty White died in late 2021, I reflected on how our collective affection for her might be the only unifying thing in an increasingly fractured culture.

But we do have Michael J. Fox.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

The Bottom Line

Intimate and cleverly constructed.

Whether you’re like me and grew up at a time when Fox was simultaneously the biggest star in movies and on television — back when those lines were harder to cross — or you’ve followed his life in the past two decades as a public crusader. for Parkinson’s research and awareness, it’s hard not to have personal investment in the Canadian actor and advocate.

Fox gets admirable and intimate documentary treatment in Apple TV+’s Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Director Davis Guggenheim is married to Fox’s ’80s co-star Elisabeth Shue, and whether that gives him a direct connection to Fox or just a direct understanding of a certain kind of whirlwind ’80s celebrity, the result is easily the Oscar winner’s best film. Guggenheim’s particular approach here leaves lots of room for the next documentarian who wants to celebrate Fox’s life, but with its tight focus and distinctive style, it delivers an essence of Fox’s energy and generation-spanning appeal.

“Distinctive style” is never a thing I’ve previously associated with Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, He Named Me Malala), but there are aspects of the director’s touch here that are inspired and border on experimental, or at least resemble the sort of narrative collage you might expect more from a filmmaker like Rodney Ascher (Room 237).

From its multifaceted title to its aesthetic, Still aims to capture Fox’s life as something of a blur. Fox exploded as a celebrity and a star, working with a pace that never let him pause, or sit still, but when his health forced him to curtail or refocus his career, his body refused to give him control over his stillness. And yet he’s still here, still wholly familiar in his cadences and his comic timing and his tone. It’s been a life hurling forward in which simply walking has become an act of concentration and strategy.

Guggenheim sits with Fox for long interview sessions, chats in which the actor breaks down his autobiography in terms familiar from his multiple memoirs. But it’s remarkable how much of the best material in Still comes from what might otherwise have been behind-the-scenes footage. The conversational asides when Fox has to pause mid-story to take his meds or when Guggenheim addresses the various new, continuity-breaking bruises and braces that make up Fox’s day-to-day are in all ways more revelatory and enlightening than the strict biography. .

When it comes to Fox’s health, Guggenheim asks roughly the questions viewers at home will have, and even when there’s real gravity to the topics being discussed — starting with the inevitable “Why do this documentary NOW?” query — their humorous rapport at least spaces out the inevitable tears. Guggenheim has access to key moments of Fox’s life — casual time with the family, intense rehabilitation sessions, fraught appointments with doctors — and the effective balance of humor and poignancy stems from Fox. Still is a single-subject documentary with Fox as the only talking head subject, but that access makes several of his children, and especially wife Tracy Pollan, into very prominent figures in the story.

Guggenheim, editor Michael Harte and the archival team illustrate Fox’s biography with a canny blending of voiceover, staged reenactments and clips from Fox’s work and his various TV and red carpet appearances, though not in the way you might imagine. Excerpts from The Secret of My Success are used to illustrate parts of Fox’s early struggles to get his professional footing, while Family Ties episodes in which Alex is exhausted by a new job flesh out the frantic reenactments depicting his double-duty between his NBC sitcom and Back to the Future. Snippets from For Love or Money highlight the efforts he was putting into covering up his Parkinson’s symptoms before he went public.

Sometimes you can identify exactly the movie or behind-the-scenes interviews Guggenheim is pulling clips from, and sometimes it’s not clear, and I think that lack of certainty helps the documentary. It adds intellectual effort to our existing investment in Fox, making us work to find the connections just as we’re watching Fox’s arduous efforts to do things that came easily for him before. In addition to Harte and the team of cinematographers, John Powell’s versatile score deserves credit for stitching disparate tonal and formal elements together.

There are pieces of Fox’s career and life that probably could have been more delved-into, outside voices that could have offered an additional layer of insight into the aspects of his talent that have proven so timeless and yet were so perfectly suited for ’80s stardom. . Maybe there could have been a little more inquiry into the pressure Fox feels as a figure of inspiration and maybe even misplaced pity, a frustration that comes out in exactly one rehab session, but is never questioned.

So maybe there’s a four-hour Michael J. Fox documentary still out there to be made in the vein of what Judd Apatow has done with Garry Shandling and George Carlin. But what Guggenheim has done here is satisfying and inspiring on its own.

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