Michael J. Fox finds the humor in his plight in moving documentary ‘Still’

While gimmicky at times, Apple TV+ film offers some poignant glimpses of the star’s Parkinson’s symptoms and his 1.21-gigawatt personality.

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“If you pity me, that’s not going to get to me,” Michael J. Fox says in the documentary “Still.”

Apple TV+

In an early sequence in the Apple TV+ documentary “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” the actor talks about his difficulties with maintaining his balance due to Parkinson’s disease. When Fox walks, it’s almost as if he’s trying to keep up with his body.

“The walking thing really freaks people out,” says Fox. “But I won’t hide it from you, and you can do with it what you will.”

We watch as Fox exits his Manhattan apartment under the watch of his physical therapist, who stands close by and sometimes advises Fox to “stop and reset … take your time, take your time.” Fox passes by a woman who greets him—and a moment later, he falls to the sidewalk. The woman walks back and says, “You got it?” and Fox replies, “I’m OK,” as his therapist helps him up.

“Nice to meet you, sir,” says the woman, to which Fox answers:

‘Still’

Untitled

Apple Original Films presents a documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim. Rated R (for language). Running time: 94 minutes. Available Friday on Apple TV+.

“Nice to meet you. You knocked me off my feet.”

There’s Michael J. Fox for you. Honest, forthcoming, dealing with the terrible hand he’s been dealt—and funny as bleep while doing so.

For some four decades, Fox has been a likable presence onscreen and off, and our admiration for him has only grown after he went public with his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1998 and spent the last 25 years leading the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million for an observational study to discover the biological signs of Parkinson’s disease.

In Davis Guggenheim’s ambitious, sometimes overly stylized but undeniably moving documentary, we retrace Fox’s childhood in Canada as the smallest kid (by FAR) in the class, his rise to TV and movie stardom with “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future” in the 1980s, his career ups and downs, his battle with alcoholism—and his long, painful, debilitating battle with Parkinson’s. The documentary is at its best when we observe Fox in quiet, warm and funny moments with his wife and their four children, and when it’s just Fox facing the camera, talking with his typical candor and humor about his condition and refusing to be painted as some kind of martyr.

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Michael J. Fox (right) shares a laugh with his wife, Tracy Pollan (left), and children Sam and Esme Fox in “Still.”

Apple TV+

“If you pity me, that’s not going to get to me,” says Fox. “I’m not pathetic, I’ve got s--- going on.”

The title of “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” is particularly appropriate, as it reflects the techniques employed by director Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “He Named Me Malala”) throughout the film. With Fox voicing his own story, we see a combination of re-creations (involving actors playing Fox at various ages, seen only in the shadows or from behind) and more often, clips from Fox’s TV and movie career that mirror the arc of his real life.

As Fox talks about his early experiences as an actor, we get clips from “The Secret of My Success.” When he recounts his exhausting schedule shooting “Family Ties” by day and “Back to the Future” at night, the memories are augmented by scenes from “Family Ties” in which the Alex P. Keaton character is going through a similar experience. The story of Fox’s courtship with the actress Tracy Pollan, his wife of more than 30 years, is told through clips of Fox and Pollan together on “Family Ties” and the film “Bright Lights, Big City.”

It’s an effective device, but one that is invoked a few times too often. We get it: There’s a bounty of footage from Fox’s work that has parallels to his life experiences, and it’s nice to be reminded of Fox’s versatility as an actor. (When Guggenheim shows us a medley of TV and movie scenes in which Fox is running, we’re reminded of how Fox was such a kinetic presence, always on the move, especially in his roles in the 1980s and 1990s.)

Kudos to Guggenheim and editor Michael Harte for finding so many snippets of Fox’s TV and film work that fit his biography, but there are times when we find ourselves growing a little impatient with all the clips and re-creations, and awaiting the next poignant moment, e.g., when Fox sits with his son Sam on the beach and tells him he’s not TRYING to fall and hurt himself, and Sam says, “Nobody thinks your agenda isn’t to be careful, it’s that it’s … lower on [your] list of things than it is for us. … I’d rather you DON’T fall over.”

They share a warm laugh, and a moment later, Sam reaches out and grasps his father’s shaking arm and quietly says:

“There you go.”


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