Pop culture continues to reap the benefits of our emphasis on mental health and male vulnerability. It’s hard to picture a documentary such as STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie existing otherwise.
Michael J. Fox needs no introduction, and he knows while we’re here, kicking off the documentary with a reference to the trilogy that’s remained a longstanding favorite for audiences. In Florida in 1990, he discovered that there were certain simple gestures that he could no longer fully control, which was at that point limited to a single finger. “The trembling was a message from the future,” Fox recalled.
Fox would later discover that it was a symptom of Parkinson’s Disease. In the present day, he no longer makes an effort to hide what he’s suffering from, which would hardly be a possibility anyway. He reveals the full extent on his terms early on, as he shakily walks down the sidewalk, even cracking a joke when he falls down shortly after greeting a fan: “You knocked me off my feet!”
Humor Is a Coping Mechanism
The exchange is also a textbook example of how humor can be a lifesaving method of coping with what we cannot control, especially for a star who was, as Fox himself put it, “never still.”
Constantly on the go from childhood, Fox uses reenactments and archival footage to describe his time as a starving aspiring actor in Hollywood before he was cast in Family Ties, the show that would change his life in many ways, giving him a start and acting as his matchmaker by casting Tracy Pollan, the woman he’s now been married to for over thirty years.
Even viewers with a casual knowledge of Fox’s career are aware of what was to come: Teen Wolf, the sitcom Spin City, and the already mentioned Back to the Future, which shot Fox into the rarefied world of in-demand Hollywood celebrities. Such an excessive amount of fame also had the usual negative side effects, and his job hardly equipped him to deal with it in a healthy way.
“Actors don’t become actors because they’re brimming with confidence,” Fox says in a statement that surely surprises no one, but who doesn’t love to have prejudices confirmed from such a familiar, knowing source?
The methods Fox once used to cope with his diagnosis predictably follow. He was a short, bullied kid who got into acting because he discovered “he could be big” or really anything he wanted, only for a disease, normally associated with the elderly, threaten to cut him down while he was still in his 20’s.
Alcohol became both crutch and wrecking ball as he hid Parkinson’s through efforts that are recognizable only in hindsight, as Fox expounds on his methodology during footage of his various on-screen work.
This approach doesn’t translate to intimacy, which is the missing ingredient that could’ve made STILL stand out from the crowd of celebrity documentaries. It’s deeply understandable that Fox would only make a passing mention of other aspects of his life: the depths that alcoholism took him to, and the stresses that his wife Tracy had to face, as the partner who was expected to look after their home while Fox was away working, and after the diagnosis that he refused to face.
The final result is more for the no doubt multitude of fans who will be satisfied by a casual perusal of one of most recognizable and enjoyable celebrities, but there’s little to recommend beyond the usual fluff piece.
Rating: 5/10 SPECS
STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie comes to Apple TV+ later this year.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.
She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.