Sundance 2023: 'STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie' Takes Viewers Back to the Past of One of Canada's Greats Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Starring Michael J. Fox
Published Jan 25, 2023Born in Edmonton and raised in Burnaby, BC, Michael J. Fox is a national treasure. His self-effacing, boyish charms and good looks made him the Tiger Beat cover boy of the '80s, he secured his place in film history with Back to the Future, and, following his Parkinson's diagnosis, became an advocate and humanitarian. STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie details Fox's life from being a pint-sized Canucks fan to Hollywood's newest golden boy to present day. A dynamic and inventive documentary, STILL offers up one of the most well-balanced celebrity-focused films in recent memory.
STILL tells the actor's story through clever reenactments spliced together using scenes from Fox's vast back catalogue of films, TV shows and talk show appearances. Rather than using this footage to simply show the different projects Fox took on, various scenes related to what Fox was actually going through mentally and emotionally are edited into the film, as if speaking for his psyche at the moment. His Family Ties days does a lot of the heavy lifting in this department, with Alex P. Keaton having faced, seemingly, every key moment Fox did in real life, including meeting his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, who played Keaton's girlfriend.
Telling Fox's story in this manner is incredibly effective and imaginative. As we move through the years, we're absorbed into each time period, with the quality of the footage going a long way in achieving this. Director Davis Guggenheim and editor Michael Harte do a fantastic job of weaving seamlessly between staged reenactments, archival footage and Fox's present-day narration. Inexplicably, STILL contains one of the most stirring "suit up" moments I've seen, as we watch Fox go from Keaton to Marty McFly, a sequence that will be greatly appreciated by audiences of a certain age.
Unlike most documentaries about a public figure's life, the only interview conducted is with Fox himself. None of his colleagues are asked to speak on his legacy or share their perspective of what it was like to work with him. Rather than speaking directly with Pollan or their children, Guggenheim instead opts for an observatory fly-on-the-wall approach in a few touching scenes from the family's home life. The decision to only hear Fox give a first-hand account of his life pays off nicely, serving the film's motive of showing his life rather than convincing audiences of his significance.
Although Fox's work speaks for itself — his roles as Keaton, McFly, Spin City's Mike Flaherty and, of course, Scott Howard in Teen Wolf are iconic in their own right — Fox's image and name are forever associated with the tough hand he was dealt at a young age. Throughout the film, Fox is shown working with a physical trainer and a vocal coach to manage his Parkinson's symptoms. He speaks candidly to Guggenheim about the disease and its effect on his life, including his substance abuse and depression that followed his diagnosis. These moments ground STILL in a very unique way, contrasting the glamorous high life Fox was living at the time, reminding audiences that behind the glitz and flashing lights was a man dealing with a terrible illness.
At one point in the film, Guggenheim asks Fox why he wants to tell his story now. Fox grows quiet and there's a silence that takes over the film. We all know the answer to the question. After being gently prodded by Guggenheim, who suggests that in 20 years he may not be able to tell his story as eloquently as now, in true Fox form he jokes, "If I'm still here in 20 years, I'll be a pickle."
I didn't know I needed a documentary about Fox's life until I saw it. He's written a number of books that are insightful and inspiring and well worth a read, but to see his career and personal life in tandem brings a fresh perspective. STILL is not only a fantastic portrait of one of Canada's favourite sons, it's also a great example of documentary filmmaking that doesn't repeat the same tired format or troupes of other films of the same ilk.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival runs from January 19 to 29. Get information about online or in-person screenings at the festival's website. (Apple TV+)