Follows the life of beloved actor and advocate Michael J. Fox, exploring his personal and professional triumphs and travails, and what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease.
While it is being promoted as a documentary, Davis Guggenheim’s “Still: A Michael J. Fox,” is really an auto-biopic, a hybrid that combines archival footage, reenactments, and current footage of its subject to create a riveting profile in courage. Simultaneously heartbreaking and inspirational, the film provides an unvarnished look at Fox’s daily struggles as well as the small triumphs that provide an illusionary respite from his trial. More than anything, this is a testament to persistence as well as a tribute to the actor’s family, particularly his wife Tracy Pollan, who have provided the support and inspiration that impels Fox to get out of bed and face another day.
Running a brisk 95 minutes, the title of the movie is the epitome of irony, as Guggenheim barely allows us to catch our breath as we’re plunged into Fox’s story. Turns out, this is a reflection of the actor as he is seen throughout, as a young man and now as a sexagenarian, as a man constantly on the move, eager to see what the future holds. Fox narrates, beginning with his earliest recollections of being small for his age and taking us through his early struggles as an actor, his success on the TV series “Family Ties,” and his overnight success as a movie star with “Back to the Future.”
What makes this remarkable is the way Guggenheim cuts together behind-the-scenes footage, clips for his various projects and reenactments of key moments to create a blur of activity recreating the maelstrom Fox was in at the time. Over a 3 ½ month period the actor was filming “Ties” during the day and “Future” at night, a gamble that would drive him to a near nervous breakdown yet would pay off in the sort of stardom only a very few glimpse, let along achieve. This sequence is a piece of bravura filmmaking, putting us as close as to being in Fox’s shoes as possible, his breathless narration adding to its power.
This approach is also used in covering when the actor was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the seven years of deception he employed to keep it hidden and its ultimate revelation. Not only does this melding of varying formats prove riveting, it’s also surprisingly intimate. There’s a sense that we are getting a glimpse inside Fox’s mind, privy to his perception of how this all played out.
Much of the movie’s third act abandons this approach, focusing instead on Pollan and their children’s continued support of Fox as well as the efforts of the family’s foundation that has raised nearly $2 billion for Parkinson’s research. The humor they use to cope is refreshing to witness, their laughter the best tonic in keeping away the despair that constantly threatens to crush them. Equally inspirational are the moments where we see the actor working with his physical therapist. I couldn’t help but wonder if Fox was the exception in his approach to the exercises they do – he is told repeatedly to slow down. His constant fight against the condition set on hobbling him is hard to witness, yet impossible to turn away from.
When asked why now is the time to tell his story, Fox replies, “Because my world is getting smaller.” There’s no denying this; yet through Guggenheim’s prowess and the actor’s honesty, here’s hoping “Still” can reach the widest of audiences and that viewers will be reminded never to take their good health for granted. That Fox allows us to see how he copes with his misfortune with humor and grace is the greatest gift and message he could give us.
3 1/2 Stars