Greetings again from the darkness. With his Oscar winning AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006), and follow-ups including WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (2010) and HE NAMED ME MALALA (2015), Davis Guggenheim has proven to be one of the most important and effective documentarians working today. With his latest, he adds a creative touch that blends well with the emotional and personal aspects of this Michael J Fox biography.
Most everyone recognizes Michael J Fox as the popular actor from the BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise and/or his enormously successful TV series, “Family Ties” and “Spin City”. Along the way, there were numerous other films and appearances, and at one point in the 1980’s, he was likely the most recognized actor on the planet thanks to his box office winning movies, highly-rated TV series, countless magazine covers, and regular Talk Show appearances. On top of all that, in 1988, he married the love of his life, actress Tracy Pollan. He truly had it all.
A trembling pinkie signaled a life-changing event for Fox. At age 29, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease … a disease that typically strikes elderly folks, not otherwise healthy young adults in their physical prime years. For years, he was able to hide his symptoms by timing his medication and disguising his left-hand trembles – either by holding an item or keeping the hand stuffed in his pocket.
The creative parts of Guggenheim’s film are that he eschews traditional talking heads – and rest assured, there would be a stream of celebrities willing to talk about Fox – and the use of cool editing by cutting in clips of Fox’s acting roles into the stories as Fox tells them. That’s right … as Michael J Fox tells his own story. He is his own talking head in this film, and it works brilliantly to allow him to show us his sense of humor remains intact, and that he has learned to deal with the obstacles this disease throws at him. We even see his struggle to get toothpaste on his toothbrush. Yet none of this is designed to elicit sympathy for Fox. Oh no, he will have none of that.
We learn his patented perpetual movement dates back to childhood, and are reminded that he was often seen sprinting or moving quickly in his roles … movements he can no longer execute. In fact, his falls are often brutal, sometimes resulting in broken bones and a broken face (pins in his hand and eye socket). Michael J Fox is a 5-time Emmy winner who has been married to Tracy for 35 years. They share four kids and the obstacles created by Parkinson’s. Guggenheim includes a wonderful story regarding a lunch box and Brandon Tartikoff, the wunderkind President of NBC who initially was opposed to Fox being cast in “Family Ties”. The presentation of Fox’s workaholic nature is on full display during the sequence on his simultaneously filming “Family Ties” and BACK TO THE FUTURE.
Michael J Fox telling us his own story makes this so personal. He admits to “waiting for the bus” … a phrase he copped to describe waiting for the dopamine meds to kick in. He is one of the very few to live more than half their life with Parkinson’s Disease, and his sharing the obstacles for all to see is commendable, even if he forbids us from pity.
Opens May 12, 2023