"Nah, that's boring." That's Michael J. Fox's rebuttal to the idea that he should turn the telling his life story as a pity party. And "boring" is a word that never applies to STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie, the captivating interview-based documentary, amplified by re-enactments and endless stock footage and archival material.
After all, Fox has spent most of his life in front of the camera. He had not one but two massively successful sitcoms (Family Ties and Spin City) while headlining the blockbuster Back to the Future trilogy. And for a decade of his hard-working career, when he was a household name, he was hiding a diagnosis of early onset Parkinson's Disease.In STILL, director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, He Named Me Malala), puts Fox back in front of the camera. Not that, between guest appearances and testimonies on medical research funding before Congress, he's ever been away but this is still Fox as you may never have seen him. In the Apple TV+ documentary (which premiered at this week's Sundance Film Festival), he is first and foremost someone living with a debilitating disease. When he falls to the sidewalk – collapses – and gets back up and still has time for a kind word for a passing fan, it's clear that there are no secrets here.
Guggenheim catches how kinetic Fox is as an actor and out of the public eye, and the idea that he was never still, ever, in his life. How else could he have survived shooting hit sitcom Family Ties in the day and Back to the Future at night for three and a half months? How could he have even made it to the point where he would be asked to balance both roles? After all, he was an undersized kid from Canada who was getting cast as a 12-year-old or Rumpelstiltskin when he was 16. He became an expert in hiding his symptoms, and those tricks will make you reappraise so many of his performances.
And with so much of his work in recent years, it's an open, honest, and crystal-clear explanation of what it is like to like to live with Parkinson's, much of it painful, with no offramp. The man who was on the cover of every magazine can now not hold a magazine without a carefully disciplined and scheduled regimen of medication.
All of this raises an interesting question: why has Fox chosen to do this film, when he's already dedicated so much of his life to this cause, and done the talk shows, and written four autobiographies? Maybe it's because this is another way to push himself, often into uncomfortable areas. Maybe it's to show the often forgotten costs of broken bone after broken bone, fall after fall, surgery after surgery.
Maybe it's to allow Guggenheim to ask Fox the questions he may never even ask himself, and give the answer that makes the most sense of his entire life. "I'm a tough son of a bitch." No truer words spoken.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 19-29. Info and online passes at festival.sundance.org.
Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.