There is a poetic irony to the title of this documentary: Michael J. Fox has never really been able to keep still, even before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A restless kid who seemed to have ants in his pants, he compensated for always being the shortest kid in the room by being the funniest, too. This film documents his efforts to find an inner calm through the two great journeys of his life: becoming a Hollywood superstar in films like Back To The Future; and navigating the diagnosis of a degenerative disorder while still a young man with much to prove.
Ingenious filmmaking from director Davis Guggenheim seamlessly blends archive footage of Fox in character from his early roles with dramatised footage, which keeps the film dynamic, pacy and rich. It opens in Florida, in 1990, with a recreation of the moment Fox first noticed his pinky finger twitching, or “auto-animating”, and wondering if he is unwell or if it’s just the effects of a night out with Woody Harrelson. The film plays on the familiar as much as the quieter revelations; the Back To The Future stuff, in particular, is a joy to watch, the recreation of Fake Michael lining up perfectly with Real Michael, as Alan Silvestri’s famous score soars in the background.
A reminder that Fox is delightful company to spend a couple of hours with.
But it is Fox himself who proves the biggest draw. It is through his voice — either voiceover, provided by his memoir, or interviews with Guggenheim — that his story is told. That could lead to a rose-tinted hagiography, and it does admittedly end on a somewhat slushy note with his family in tow, but Fox seems to be the first to admit his astonishing early career was driven by fear and insecurity as much as anything else. It was the same fear that drove him into hiding his symptoms from the public and the industry for years; it is only in later life and relative retirement, it seems, that he has found a modicum of peace.
If all that seems heavy, as his most famous character might have put it, Fox is keen to keep things light, undercutting every serious point with a wry smile or a self-deprecating gag. It is amazing how funny he is, even when visibly in pain. Above all, it’s a reminder that Fox is delightful company to spend a couple of hours with, the boyish glint of Marty McFly undimmed.