Michael J. Fox, wife Tracy Pollan, and their children attended the premiere of the documentary “STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. From left, Aquinnah, Sam, Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox, and Schuyler.
By Vanessa Zimmer
Imagine being told at age 29 that you have a degenerative brain disease most often diagnosed in grandpas.
Also imagine being at the top of the world, a beloved actor of the 1980s and ’90s, with successful TV shows like Family Ties and Spin City, and blockbuster mega-hit movies that brought audiences streaming into theaters, like Back to the Future and Teen Wolf.
Wouldn’t you be tempted to hope that, if you pretended it wasn’t happening, it wouldn’t?
That was Michael J. Fox some 30 years ago. He hid his condition for seven years, masking the tremors by making sure he was holding something in his hand, and contorting his body to hide his jerky movements. Today, he is a brave, living example of Parkinson’s disease that is happening.
In STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), the star jokes that his Parkinson’s is the “cosmic price” he’s paying for all his successes. He remains upbeat and optimistic despite the spastic tremors, the slurred speech, and a limping, lurching stride that frequently sends him sprawling. (“You knocked me off my feet,” he wisecracks to a concerned pedestrian after a fall on the street.)
Fox exuded the same spirit at the Q&A following the film’s January 20 premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, bringing the crowd to its feet as he gamely climbed the steps with help and took a chair on the stage. He doesn’t face the next chapter with dread. “It’s makeup time,” he told the audience. “I love my family, I love what I do. It is an amazing fucking life and I am enjoying it.”
In the film, he matter-of-factly recalls his many falls — in one instance breaking his arm, and in another plunging face-first into some furniture, fracturing several bones in his cheek. “Gravity is real, even if you’re only my height,” jokes the 5-foot-4.5-inch actor.
The story follows Fox’s incredible career — the Canadian dropped out of school at age 16 to pursue acting, surviving on Smucker’s jelly packets in a studio apartment in the “Beverly Hills slums” — and his resilient good nature. Not only that, Guggenheim structures the documentary in an entertaining style, incorporating scenes from Fox’s movies and TV shows to propel the action.
Throughout, Fox fills the documentary — narrated by him and based on his own memoir — with his ever-present wit and one-liners. (He refers to his multiple injuries, for example, as a “festival of self-abuse.”)
No surprise, Fox’s activism in seeking research funds for Parkinson’s is part of the documentary. He testified before Congress in that regard, and playfully considers that experience: “I find it extremely moving – no pun intended.”
Proving, even now, he’s still Michael J. Fox.