December 16, 2023 – This is one of those Oscar-list movies I watched for awards season, and it's a dandy documentary about a fascinating person, the award winning actor and humanitarian, best known for the “Back to the Future” movies and the “Family Ties” and “Spin City” TV series.
Younger viewers may not recall what a big star Fox was, but will learn about it in this documentary. He was not only starring at the top two hit movies, “Back to the Future” and “Teen Wolf” at the same time in 1985, but was also simultaneously in a hit TV series, “Family Ties.” His unbelievably hectic schedule had him acting in “Back to the Future” and “Family Ties” at the same time.
He had no idea that “Back to the Future” would become the all-time hit that it would become. He did not think he gave it his best effort due to his exhausting schedule at the time. In fact, “Back to the Future” filming started with Eric Stoltz playing the lead role of Marty McFly, but the film was soon recast with Fox playing the part (he was actually the first choice for the part) and the earlier scenes with Stoltz were re-shot.
After this big hit, Fox's career really took off, but before “Family Ties,” Fox was the proverbial starving artist, with barely enough food to keep body and soul together. He had almost given up on show business as a career. Fox had dropped out of high school and moved to Hollywood after falling in love with acting. Fox was very surprised when his father, William, agreed to his plan to drop out of school, and even drove him from Canada, where Fox was born, to Hollywood, financing the trip on his credit card.
Fox was able to get some acting jobs right away, most often playing characters younger than himself, due to his short stature and youthful looks, but he had run out of money by the time “Family Ties” came along. Some people in the production were against him, but as soon as he appeared in front of a live audience everyone could see he was a star. For one thing, he had great comic timing.
In those days, Fox was a high energy guy, always on the run. He could not stay still (still is a theme that runs through this documentary). He was a workaholic, always burning the candle at both ends, but when the symptoms of early onset Parkinson's disease started to affect him seriously, he had to reevaluate his whole approach to life.
Outside of his family (wife, Tracy Pollan, son, Sam, daughters Aquinnah Kathleen, Schuyler Frances and Esmé Annabelle) nobody knew about Fox's incurable, progressive disease, and he was living in denial, keeping up a busy schedule making movies and starring in a new hit TV show, “Spin City,” and taking drugs to mask his symptoms. He began drinking heavily and became depressed.
Eventually, he announced that he had Parkinson's disease, but he kept on working, and even worked his disease into comedy routines. He formed the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's research and testified before Congress with Mohammed Ali seeking more research money. He retired from acting in 2020 when his speech became unreliable and his memory was affected.
Fox is interviewed extensively in this movie, and he is funny, disarming and upbeat, despite his medical condition. He always has a quip ready for any occasion, even if he isn't able to say it right when he needs to. It is easy to see the personality and wit that made him so popular, even in the advanced stages of his illness.
It is hard to watch him when he is uncontrollably shaking, or when he is trying to walk in physical therapy sessions. But you can still see that winning personality shining through the shaking shell that his body has become.
In addition to appearances by Fox and his family in this movie, other actors are used to play Fox and his wife and other famous people in recreations of past events. Many movie clips and scenes from his TV shows and news clips are also used in this movie, because much of Fox's life has been lived in the public eye.
This documentary (streaming on Apple TV+) is directed by award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”). It provides a comprehensive view of Michael J. Fox as he is now, and as he was earlier in his life. It is also very entertaining. This film rates an A.
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