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‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ review: Beautifully illustrated, brave, and engaging

The retired actor and activist lays his burdens down about his Parkinson’s fight and retains his optimism through it all.

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A moment occurs within STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie where director Davis Guggenheim asks Fox why he doesn’t talk about the intense pain he’s under fighting Parkinson’s disease. Fox mentioned it a moment earlier, and his response is, “It didn’t come up. I didn’t want to lead with that.” When he was younger, Fox was a dual-acting threat as America’s son, Alex P. Keaton, on Family Ties and everybody’s favorite time-traveling teen, Marty Mcfly, in the Back To The Future trilogy. He predicated on never being still – even at the age of 2, where he briefly recalls a story of sneaking out to his house to go to the general store unattended. Fox’s younger look gave him a leg up when it came to getting roles and being short never deterred him in the slightest.

As Guggenheim interviews him, Fox’s feisty nature is still present – albeit delayed because of how the disease has progressed. Still is unequivocally the retired actor and health activist’s story – through and through. Fox conducts all the voiceovers and serves us as the guide as we go through the highs and lows of his life. Guggenheim places a mix of slight reenactments intercut with show and film footage from Fox’s career to push the story forward. Even though acting is a conduit to portray a fictional storyline, it was amazing to witness how seemingly these characters Fox played throughout his life.

Still is equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful. The documentary starts with a vivid retelling of when Fox discovered his first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in 1990 – where he describes his first tremors happening in his pinky finger. When the audience does get to see the effects the condition has on Fox, he recognizes it with a healthy amount of optimism gleaming in his spirit. Some of that stems from people holding him as a pillar of someone that can live a whole life with this diagnosis. But as Guggenheim says to him, “It’s OK not to be Michael J. Fox sometimes.”

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Not only does Still provide a first-person account from Fox, often with the camera tight to his face, but there are also other moments where we get to see him with his family. It’s some of the most heartwarming parts of this documentary – as he meets his condition with jokes and laughter, his wife Tracy and four children follow. They are joyful, loving exchanges that Fox meets with jokes – as often as he has done throughout his life. His gift for delivering one-liners at the right moment and charm elevated the once high school dropout to winning People’s Choice and Golden Globe awards.

As high as the highs are, Still doesn’t put the challenging parts behind a curtain. We get to see Fox’s physical regimen and the times when he struggles to walk. During the sit-down interview, he describes falling and breaking his cheekbone. It’s not one of Fox's first injuries because of his condition. However, there’s a graceful inevitability that he meets with every moment. Fox specifically recalled feeling that his Parkinson’s diagnosis was “a cosmic price he had to pay for success.” Getting diagnosed with such a disease baffled him at the age of 29 because of its association resides with older age.

An irony exists where a man known for his energy has to battle with not being able to control how his body moves. Yet, it’s never blunted the optimism that resides inside Fox. If anything, the man known for going back in time relishes the moments that much more. If there was ever a bit of dialogue that personifies this whole documentary, it’s one of the first conversations we see between Guggenheim and Fox. Guggenheim says, “The sad sack story is Michael J. Fox gets a debilitating disease, and it crushes him.” Fox then quickly retorts, “Yeah, that’s boring.”

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