Directed by Davis Guggenheim | 95 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Apple TV+
If you watched TV in the 1980s, you knew Michael J Fox, and if you went to the movies in the 1980s, you knew Michael J Fox. He was up there with Eddie Murphy, Madonna, Tom Cruise, and Michael Jackson — the white hot fame around this guy is hard to explain even in hindsight, but this film does a pretty good job of it.
There’s even a moment when he mentioned Moosehead beer on TV and was sent crates of it.
It also shares how he’s doing now, the activist for awareness of his condition: He lives with Parkinson’s Disease, and has since 1990 when he was in his 20s.
This doc uses his memoirs as a springboard to show what life used to be like for him, and how he fought to deny his diagnosis for many years, hiding it and self-medicating with alcohol and pills. That threatened his personal relationships even as his professional life found a new gear in the 1990s with his return to television, a show called Spin City.
Director Guggenheim has done a lot of quality TV series along with notable docs like An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud, He Named Me Malala, and a number of shorts for the American Democratic party. He takes a playful but serious approach to Fox’s life, colourful and creative recreations of his early days on set of his wildly popular series Family Ties and movies like Back To The Future, Teen Wolf, and Secret Of My Success. His wife, Tracy Pollan, and his kids, now grown up, they also appear.
We spend some time with Fox in the present as he receives physical therapy. In 2023 he’s in his early 60s and he says he falls a lot — he’s recently broken his hand and his arm. He says he’s in a lot of pain. For someone who made his living through moving and physical expression, it must be devastating to lose that control. But to his credit, he’s used his fame to bring attention to the disease, to raise a huge amount of financial support in the fight for a cure.
With this documentary it really feels like Fox is telling his own story — with the deftly chosen clips from his TV shows and films, his to-the-camera confessionals, and voice-over — audiobook segments from those memoirs — we get what feels like a pretty complete picture of his experience.
I would’ve liked to have heard more from colleagues and friends about the old days — at one point early on Woody Harrelson is mentioned, but he doesn’t appear. Nevertheless the film is an intimate and personal testimonial, and it’s an affecting one.