“The sad sack story is: Michael J. Fox gets this debilitating disease, and it crushes him,” we hear an off-screen voice say to Fox, who then shoots back with a smile: “Yeah, that’s boring.”
Part-Hollywood autobiography, part-love story and part-affecting portrait of living life with Parkinson’s disease, STILL finds the Back To The Future star at his funniest and most honest. By letting him tell his own story, warts and all, this film gives Fox the power to control the narrative that has built up around him since he first went public with the condition he spent years masking with drugs and reshoots. Since the late 90s, Fox’s body has constantly shaken: he struggles to walk, he’s riddled with pins and broken bones from falling over so much, and life is a constant battle to control both his pain and embarrassment. But the 61-year-old’s heroic struggle with Parkinson’s isn’t the only story he wants to tell.
First off, there’s his rise to superstardom in the 80s – a fairy tale that takes him from being a pint-sized kid getting stuffed in a locker by the school bullies to “the boy king of Hollywood”. Director Davis Guggenheim mixes talking heads and reconstructions with fast-cut footage from Fox’s own library of film and TV work, giving STILL the pace and energy of a teen comedy.
After getting cast in Back To The Future while he was still the leading light of TV’s Family Ties, Fox spent a sleepless few months shooting both projects at the same time – and the pressure didn’t let up for years. By working at breakneck speed throughout his heyday he became a workaholic, an alcoholic and, by his own admission, “a bit of a dick”.
Some of the sweetest moments in STILL come next, with Fox meeting and marrying his Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan. The couple have now been together for 35 years, during which Pollan saw Fox through the toughest time of his life – even when he was doing his best to push her away. As honest about his ups as he is his downs, it’s a rare thing to see a movie star being so earnest and grounded on camera. Through the film, Guggenheim helps Fox paint an endearing self-portrait of one of Hollywood’s last few nice guys.
And then there’s the Parkinson’s. Seeing his diagnosis as karmic retribution for his fast life (“the cosmic price I had to pay for all my success”), Fox is far too hard on himself here. Hinting that he wants to tell his story now because he suspects he won’t be around for much longer, the sadness of the film runs as deep as it does because Fox seems like such a genuinely decent person. By opening up to show us what life with Parkinson’s looks like (as embarrassing and painful as it often is funny and unpredictable), it’s hard to think of a better spokesperson for the condition – and harder still to think of anyone who deserves it less.
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Tracy Pollan, Gary David Goldberg
Release date: May 12