STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023) Review

STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023)
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Tracey Pollan, Sam Fox, Aquinnah Fox, Schuyler Fox, Annabelle Fox

It’s hard not to picture Michael J. Fox in a certain way. He’s the smart-mouth kid from ‘Family Ties’ and/or Teen Wolf and/or the Back to the Future trilogy who disappeared from the regular Hollywood scene after he was sadly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although he is very much still alive, he’s often spoken about as if he isn’t because our perception of him is largely stuck in the past – it’s him before he had to deal with a life-changing illness. STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie works to realign that.

It doesn’t take long for Fox to redefine himself in his own words – shortly after STILL opens he calls himself a “tough son of a bitch”. It is a characterisation that perhaps wouldn’t be readily associated with him previously, but it’s impossible to disagree with. The salient point of the documentary is then laid before us without having to say it explicitly: just because someone has a disease, they don’t become that disease. Michael J. Fox was a tough son of a bitch before he had Parkinson’s – and he continues to be one regardless of what he does or doesn’t have now.

STILL tells its story through a combination of archive footage and current interviews with Fox himself, with old TV and film clips alongside dramatisations to undercut and accentuate personal accounts of his life so far. We learn about his childhood, his parents, the ambitions that he had and the struggle he faced to realise them, and that’s what teaches us how strong his character is. Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 29 is treated as the inciting incident for where he faced a new battle, rather than for the new person he became. That isn’t to say it underplays the significance of it, just that the documentary is more interested in who Michael J. Fox is as a complete person.

What’s abundantly clear as we spend more time with Fox is that the comic timing that made him a star as a much younger man still exists. One of the highlights of STILL is a moment that feels like it could be any other day – the Fox family are gathered in the kitchen for what seems like a typical morning briefing before they go about their separate days. The topic of conversation on this particular morning is the family’s struggles in getting a coherent text message from him, something that Fox plays off in a charmingly self-deprecating manner.

There’s a thread of intimacy that cuts throughout – this is Michael J. Fox’s story from his own perspective and no one else’s. There are no talking heads, and no one speaks about him unless he’s in the room to hear what they’ll say. STILL gives an impression that we’re being told as much about his life as he knows about it himself. It’s an open honesty that is reminiscent of films like Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir or Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz; films that tell real stories that can only be told by the people telling them – they’re the only ones who’ve lived those stories from the perspectives we’re offered. Where STILL is different is in its scale – this is a whole life story from the person who’s lived it.

STILL is the chance for Michael J. Fox to provide us with a few life lessons that are worth learning. The most obvious is that your illnesses or disabilities don’t have to define you, but there are plenty more laced throughout. It’s a story of perseverance through pain, and what it takes to keep going when you’re constantly running either towards or away from something. But aside from all of that, it’s also just really nice to spend a couple of hours in the company of Fox himself.

Score: 17/24

Rating: 3 out of 5.

By Rob Jones

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