Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (PG13)
94 minutes, premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday
The story: Canadian-American actor Michael J. Fox tells the story of his life, from boyhood to the present day. With film clips, re-enactments and on-camera interviews, a tale is spun of a kid from Burnaby, British Columbia, who has his Hollywood dream come true – only to have it all darkened by the shadow of a debilitating disease.
No crying, no pity – that was the instruction Fox gave director Davis Guggenheim before the start of the project.
The result is a biographical documentary that frames the actor’s life as a feel-good story in the first half and a taut psychological drama in the second.
The turning point is his diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease. When the movie and television star – who had been at the top of the world with the Back To The Future science-fiction film series (1985 to 1990) and the sitcom Spin City (1996 to 2000) – is told of his diagnosis, his life is in torment.
He turns to alcohol. When filming, he connives to position his hands in ways that camouflage the spasms. Clips from Spin City featuring odd hand placement are shown to illustrate the point.
“You’re only as sick as your secrets,” says Fox of that emotionally turbulent period.
If that quote sounds pulled from a motivational speech, you have to consider the film-maker.
Guggenheim specialises in inspirational projects – his resume includes the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth (2006), which follows former United States vice-president Al Gore as he makes arresting arguments about climate change.
The director also won an Emmy for the uplifting He Named Me Malala (2015), the biography of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for promoting education for girls.
A cynic might say Still, like the portrait of Gore or Yousafzai, aims to sell Fox as a – shudder – “thought leader” in the field of disease activism.
There is a grain of truth to this. But, while not a thorough work of journalism, this film does cover the key areas of work and family and, more importantly, never forgets to let Fox shine on camera as a sweet man with a cheeky sense of humour.
Hot take: This window into Fox’s life avoids sentimentality. Instead, it frames him as an inspirational figure, someone who was cut down in his prime but still finds life worth living because of his loved ones.