“STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie” is a remarkable accomplishment, making brilliant use of film clips to seamlessly illustrate and augment reenactments and the actor’s narration of his story, having spent more than 30 years living with Parkinson’s disease. Nostalgic without becoming overly sentimental, it’s an ode to Fox’s life, career and the struggle he continues to endure.
In some respects, the documentary dovetails with “Val,” another biography about an actor grappling with health issues, although that drew heavily on Val Kilmer’s penchant for toting a video camera around with him to chronicle his life.
Here, director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) provides an equally intimate but more cinematic effect by combining Fox’s direct-to-camera interviews and narration culled from his book with understated reenactments and clips that cleverly capture key moments. When Fox discusses his insane schedule as he shuttled between his hit sitcom “Family Ties” and shooting “Back to the Future,” for example, there’s a clip of someone asking his character, “Do you think you can handle both jobs?”
Fox refers to his first brush with tremors as “a message from the future,” before flashing back to his early life. Growing up far from the spotlight, he took the plunge and headed to Hollywood (to the strains of the Kenny Loggins song “This is It”) to pursue acting, capitalizing on his diminutive size and a youthful appearance that allowed him to still play kids when in high school.
The breakthrough role on “Family Ties” came despite resistance from NBC’s then-president, the legendary Brandon Tartikoff, who is shown saying of Fox, “I don’t think we’re talking about somebody who’s going to be on a lunchbox.” Tartikoff later shows off an autographed lunchbox, embossed with Fox’s picture, that the actor sent him once the show became a smash hit.
Having become an advocate for Parkinson’s research and funding, Fox matter-of-factly discusses his limitations, the unlikelihood of him living another 20 years and perhaps most poignantly, his lonely efforts to hide his condition, up to his time on the sitcom “Spin City.”
Guggenheim deftly peppers the documentary with everything from behind-the-scenes glimpses of “Family Ties” to reviews of Fox’s movies – pro and con – by “Siskel & Ebert” to a montage of sequences in which he’s running, tying in with his observation, “I couldn’t be still until I could literally no longer keep still.”
As Fox freely admits, the diagnosis initially shook him, leading to alcohol and other coping mechanisms. Yet he discusses it in the interviews with humor and nary a trace of self-pity, as the camera zeroes in on the challenges posed by even the smallest chores.
“My world is getting smaller,” Fox says, by way of his decision to participate in this documentary now, though thanks to his wife and children, there’s no shortage of love or warmth to be found. And in terms of serving as a source of inspiration in terms of dealing with the bad hand that he was dealt, this “Michael J. Fox Movie” makes him look 10-feet tall.
“STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie” premieres May 12 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a unit of Apple.)