There was a point in the '80s and '90s where Michael J. Fox was on top of the world, reaching highs that few actors can ever say they've reached. Between "Back to the Future" becoming a global hit at the same time his hit series "Family Ties" was on the air, with "Teen Wolf" set to give him yet another box office smash as this was all going down, he was the star of the moment. That stardom extended well into the '90s. That is, until the actor's long battle with Parkinson's began, which pulled him away from the spotlight for the better part of three decades.
Fortunately, Fox is back with an uplifting, entertaining, and truly cinematic documentary called "Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie," which is due to arrive on Apple TV+ in May. I had the great fortune of catching the doc during this year's SXSW in Austin, Texas in an absolutely packed house at the Paramount Theatre. While this is without question a documentary about the actor in question, tracing his meteoric rise to fame as well as his battle with Parkinson's and his modern life, it is so much more than that. Above all else, it lets us reconnect with Michael J. Fox the movie star, and that is something that has been sorely missed.
I must admit, I didn't even realize how much nostalgia I had for the man until the early moments of the movie began, and we hear that Marty McFly voice that is hopelessly seared into all of our brains. It's capable of inducing goosebumps and provides that much-desired nostalgia high. It's cinema. Director Davis Guggenheim -- masterfully and wisely -- uses this film as a starring vehicle for the beloved actor, just as much as he uses it as a way to tell this man's story.
If we're not counting voice roles such as "Stuart Little" or the cult classic flop "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," it's been nearly 30 years since Fox had a starring role in a movie, dating back to 1996 with "The Frighteners." That was also the same year that he was part of a hugely impressive ensemble cast in Tim Burton's criminally underrated "Mars Attacks!" And yes, Fox has managed to keep an on-screen presence through his ongoing battle with Parkinson's, having appeared in Netflix's time travel romp "See You Yesterday" in 2019, for example, as well as in guest spots on shows like "The Good Fight."
That having been said, we haven't actually had a true Michael J. Fox starring vehicle in what feels like forever -- mostly because it has been forever. We haven't had anything like "For Love or Money" or "Casualties of War" in ages. We haven't been treated to that extremely particular brand of charm at the center of a major motion picture in far too long. Granted, that is an understandably difficult ask of a man battling what Fox is battling, but "Still" is a reminder of how special this man is, not was.
Mostly, the documentary feels like a biopic about Michael J. Fox as told by Michael J. Fox. It uses a mix of archival footage, dramatic recreations, and Fox's own voiceover to craft something that feels like a brand new movie from this beloved, bonafide star. It's an expert execution of the documentary format as cinematic entertainment, as well as a straight-up gift to audiences who have been sorely missing this singular presence for far too long. Fox's performance, largely captured through his voiceover, is vibrant, fun, earnest, and effective. For lack of a better way to put it? It's Michael J. Fox.
I fully understand that not everyone is going to be fortunate enough to see this movie in a jam-packed theater at a film festival, and that environment can absolutely color an experience. The big screen hits different; there are no two ways about that. Be that as it may, from where I was sitting, it felt like an absolute gift to get to see this man back doing what he does best, presented in this way. It doesn't feel quite like anything else I've ever seen, as a hybrid biopic/autobiography. Indisputably though, it brings Michael J. Fox the movie star back to vibrant life, and that feels like a damn gift.
In the era we're living in now, it feels more like franchises and specific characters are the movie stars, with the rarest of rare exceptions like Tom Cruise and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson standing between that being entirely true. Seeing this film harkens back to a different era when a hit movie could be constructed purely around an actor's ability to draw an audience. And damned if, all these years later, you don't feel like Fox still has that ability to charm an audience into submission. If there is such a thing as empty nostalgia, this is nutritious, fulfilling nostalgia of the highest order.
"Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie" arrives on Apple TV+ on May 12, 2023.
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