At once a loving tribute to a major star, a portrait of a man struggling to not struggle with an illness and an inspirational story of overcoming limitations, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie hits all the right notes for what could be a vanity documentary. (The film begins streaming Friday on Apple TV+.)
Don’t worry about the gimmicky quasi-narrative director Davis Guggenheim trots out from time to time, though you might find it interesting if not a little spooky. Guggenheim mixes existing footage of Fox in various roles to create a sort-of narration of the star’s early days as a teen heartthrob and burgeoning superstar. It’s disconcerting on one level and a bit of how’d-he-do-that trickery on the other, but it’s never out of place as a device.
But the most gripping parts of this documentary are the simplest: Fox, sitting in front of the camera, speaking to us as if he’s having a conversation with old friends. We see the effects of Parkinson’s disease on his body, from his slouch to his frequent tremors. In one sense, it’s a courageous gesture — a marked lack of vanity from a profession that requires a lot of it.
Most of Fox’s early days as an actor were a blur, turning into a whirlwind of stardom. He recounts getting into the business, personal relationships and landing acting gigs that led to some of his highest-profile gigs — Family Ties, Back to the Future and Teen Wolf among them.
There’s a particular twinkle in his eye when he discusses meeting Tracy Pollan on the set of Family Ties, and he recounts their first meeting as both a lesson in humility and an admission that he was drawn to her because she dared call him out for making an insensitive comment about her post-lunch breath.
Of course, they grow together as husband and wife, and it seems the years have deepened their relationship. It’s easy to draw a comparison to Fox’s contemporary, Kirk Cameron — another 1980s teen idol who married a co-star he is still with today. But contrasting Cameron’s descent into self-righteousness with Fox’s dignified dive into his illness paints a picture of a man who embraces his own humanity rather than someone trying to point at everyone else’s.
These heartwarming segments and vignettes remind you why Fox was a star — with boyish looks and demeanor that can come off as self-assured to the point of cockiness or as maybe even a touch bashful. He notes that early in his career, his youthful appearance allowed him to score younger roles despite his age.
Fox certainly seems like a down-to-earth kind of person, which of course has been his trademark for years, and he displays a marked lack of vanity in making visits to doctors and physical therapy sessions that clearly display his difficulties getting around and living life.
This is the sort of documentary you can throw on in the background, but you’ll almost certainly be drawn into in one way or another. Guggenheim’s mock narration from Fox’s younger self feels both gimmicky and novel. It’s obvious he didn’t record his own voice — it’s often shaky and sometimes a bit slurred from his illness — but it’s also not just patched-together trickery (though there is certainly some of that here and there). It’s not clear whether it was AI-assisted at all, but this technique will no doubt find its way into more films going forward; we’ve already seen it used in shorter-form content on social media platforms. But Fox’s carefully articulated candor makes this film more remarkable despite the frills.
This approach has been done before, as in the pretty good documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me from a few years back. But Still somehow feels authentic and unique. With Fox, of course it is.