Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie will inspire and entertain you [Apple TV+ review] | Cult of Mac

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie will inspire and entertain you [Apple TV+ review]


Michael J. Fox in ★★★
Still stands strong as a stirring portrait of actor Michael J. Fox.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ ReviewNew Apple TV+ documentary Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie tells the story of the charismatic actor’s life, his complicated relationship with stardom, and the degenerative disease that hit him at an early age.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, He Named Me Malala), it’s a fleet, funny, tragic and humane portrait of a man desperate to get everything out of his head while he still can.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie review

The year is 1990. Michael J. Fox, the diminutive superstar who headlined the blockbuster Back to the Future among other huge moneymakers, wakes up in a Florida hotel with a hangover, little memory of the night before and a trembling he’d never experienced before. He goes to flick an insect off his face and his pinky, he realizes, won’t stop shaking. It was the first clue he was developing Parkinson’s disease, the neurological disorder that came to define him as much as his acting career.

As a kid, he was rambunctious, a child who couldn’t help but move at the speed of light. He was unusually short for his age, which made him aware that he was standing out. He started acting in high school theater and found he loved it, even if his father thought his head was in the clouds. His grades were terrible, and his dad let him know how much it bothered him.

Fox started smoking and drinking, and crashing his dad’s car whenever he mixed them. When he was 16, he was cast on a Canadian sitcom as a 12-year-old boy. His acting teacher said he’d be a shoo-in in Hollywood looking as young as he did, so his father reluctantly — but secretly filled with pride — drove him to LA.

Family Ties, Back to the Future and fame

A couple of speaking roles and commercial gigs kept Fox from poverty, but just barely. He briefly considered going home to work on his brother’s construction site, but his agent persisted and got him in front of the producers of a new sitcom called Family Ties. They didn’t want him, but he got in front of them and he made them laugh. He was 22.

The jobs were slow to come at first, but the fame was fairly quick. He was making Teen Wolf down the street from a Steven Spielberg/Robert Zemeckis production. He was curious about Back to the Future, and bummed when he heard some of his peers had parts in it.

Then Family Ties producer Gary Goldberg told Fox that Spielberg had initially wanted him badly for a role in the film, but Goldberg wouldn’t release him from his contract. They started filming Back to the Future with Eric Stoltz but didn’t think the actor was right for the part. So they asked again about Fox. Goldberg relented on the condition that Fox not miss a minute of work.

So for months, he would get up at 6 a.m., work on Family Ties till 6 p.m., then head to the set of Back to the Future and work until 3 a.m. It almost killed him, but it paid off. It made his career. After that, the hits came and didn’t stop for the rest of the decade. Sports cars, sponsorships, girls, parties. He married his Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan, they had their first child, and then the trouble started.

A double whammy of bad news

Fox’s father got sick and died in 1990. Then the actor received his Parkinson’s diagnosis. The back-to-back bad news made him drink more heavily.

He hid the disease for years, until the tremors became ungovernable, even with pills. Meanwhile, his movies received worse and worse reviews. He kept going further and further from home to work to escape his life. Then he got sober — and was more depressed than ever.

Finally, Fox said enough was enough. He quit movies to make TV, the short-lived Spin Citywhich allowed him to make his own schedule and spend time with his family, but it was too late. His symptoms grew worse and he finally had to come clean about his disease because he could no longer hide it.

Then came the next chapter of his life: being the public face of an illness the American public didn’t understand.

An entertaining documentary about a complicated life

Davis Guggenheim in "STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie," now streaming on Apple TV+.
Director Davis Guggenheim does a solid job with Still.
Photo: Apple TV+

Still director Davis Guggenheim is usually too wrapped up in his own importance to make anything so pedestrian as an “entertaining” movie. Bummer that the guy started making great TV (his episodes of Deadwood are superlative) before meeting Al Gore and making An Inconvenient Truth. That documentary proved no more scintillating than Gore’s speaking voice (though we’re currently living with the consequences of not taking either of them at face value).

However, it catapulted Guggenheim into the upper echelon of LA royalty. Since then, he’s made movies about Malala Yousafzai and Bill Gates, and crafted campaign spots for Joe Biden and Barack Obama. If that doesn’t give you an outsized sense of yourself I don’t know what would.

As a result, Guggenheim abandoned the more modest subjects and jobs he used to take. This, for a time, made his work dully straightforward and a not a little self-important.

Still gets at the heart of Michael J. Fox’s humanity

So it delights and surprises me to report that, despite a few hiccups, Still is a blast. It’s everything a straightforward biodoc can be without transcending its trappings. The newly shot re-creations of Fox’s life are all quite well-judged and excitingly edited. The use of archival footage is a little on the nose and sometimes overcranked, but it gets the points across.

The interviews with Fox are poignant, hysterical and human. His frustration with his condition is heartbreaking. He knows what he wants to do and say, but can’t get the signal from his brain to his body. It’s one of those things many of us live in terror of going through. And, though Parkinson’s has wrought a terrible toll on Fox, his resilience is awe-inspiring, perhaps because he’s so self-deprecating about it.

He doesn’t think of himself as a hero or an inspiration. He’s just a guy playing the hand he was dealt. Still is a frank documentation of the road from a little kid with a little ambition, to a superstar, to a man living with a debilitating illness. Ultimately, it’s a movie with a good sense of its own aims and ambition.


Watch Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie on Apple TV+

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie premieres Friday on Apple TV+.

Rated: R

Watch on: Apple TV+

Watch on Apple TV

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at


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