“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” & “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields”
Two revealing documentaries about two of the biggest stars of their era, told in their own words.
“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” is not a year-by-year account of his career through film and television. This is the story of a man who has been down but persevered through determination and family support.
The film does include stories of his struggles before he hit the big time on tv with “Family Ties” and then on to big screen fame with “Back to the Future”, but the film’s true focus is the man (remember the title) telling of the love he had that, to this day, helps the actor make it through his hard times.
It was wife Tracy Pollan who was his rock when Fox beat alcoholism and when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Pollan simply said, “For better or for worse.”
It is sweet that the only time we see his smile is when speaking of his wife and children.
Struggling to hide his disease from the public, Fox says he popped dopamine “like Halloween candy”. On his sets, he always held props to hide his shaking hands. Fox was too big a star and deception was they key. If he could just keep it at bay, no one would be the wiser.
Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, Fox is the sole interviewee and tells his story with honesty and an optimistic attitude. The actor doesn’t hide anything. Fox is honest about his near constant pain and must stop for medication a few times. He also won’t shelter us from seeing how just walking is dangerous for him, falling often.
To help tell the tale, Editor Michael Hart cleverly uses clips of characters Fox has played to weave together important moments (both good and bad) in his life, giving the film an inventive flow.
A well-directed documentary, it is the honesty from its subject that truly moves us.
Michael J. Fox doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him, and we don’t. We admire him. Of course, we all wish he wasn’t afflicted with this terrible disease, but as the actor explains, feeling sorry for him and placating him with encouraging words would be “the worst thing one could do.”
“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” has humor and drama, sadness, and laughter, but leaves one filled with hope.
Just like the man himself.
“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” takes a deep look at the actress’s life and controversial career, putting strong focus on her relationship with her single-parent mother, who was often taken to task for allowing her young daughter to be part of some of her more controversial projects.
There was much debate over the young actress being sexualized in ads such as her spots for Calvin Klein and films such as “The Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love”, and the film shows us just how true it was. In an interview from the 1980s, Klein doesn’t deny the charge and explains it away by claiming he likes to provoke.
While one could point the finger at Shield’s mom Teri (who signed off on everything), the actress’s career was ultimately one of men controlling her.
Of the hit film “The Blue Lagoon”, the actress says, “they wanted to sell my actual sexual awakening.” And it is disturbing to hear her tell the story of shooting Franco Zeffirelli’s “Endless Love” and how her director became so frustrated with Shields inability to show passion that he twisted her toe to elicit the right facial expressions.
Her role as an 11-year-old prostitute in Louis Malle’s “Pretty Baby” is examined. The critically lauded film found many detractors in 1978’s puritanical audiences, but Shields is proud of the picture and her work in it, recognizing Malle as the artist he was. It wasn’t the filmmaker that objectified the actress, it was the true story of the real girl where the controversy should lie.
Towards the end of the film, there is a great moment where Shields and her family are having dinner. The subject of “Pretty Baby” comes up and her daughters debate their mother on the artistic merit of her depiction in the film. It is a real moment captured by the director and it speaks to one’s perception of where “the line” is regarding films, books, etc.
Once a media darling (as long as they could keep her sexualized), Brooke Shields publicly declared how she was saving sex until she grew a little older and met someone whom she loved and trusted enough to share it with. That statement made her an unfortunate outcast in chauvinistic Hollywood. For the commendable feeling of wanting to save her virginity for the right person, the young actress was destroyed and ridiculed by the press.
So much in the actress’s life (her mother’s alcoholism, her Calvin Klein ads, the public’s failure to take her seriously) would have broken many, but Brooke Shields fought for decades for respect.
Directed by Lana Wilson, this is an immersive documentary, and Shields has a lot to say. The actress dislikes looking back and realizing how her younger self was a product, a problem that prevented her from finding her true self for so long.
Filled with testimonies from friends and colleagues (Laura Linney, Judd Nelson, and more) as well as other voices who examine the validity of her youthful career, the film shows how Shields’ problematic life was the pathway toward her own truth.
Brooke Shields spent a large part of her life searching for sovereignty. Today, she is a wife and mother with a good family and a peaceful life. The actress has said all that needs to be said and has defended herself long enough.
With “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” the actress has finally been allowed the last word.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Directed by Ted Guggenheim
Starring Michael J. Fox
R, 95 Minutes, Concordia Studio
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields
Directed by Lana Wilson
Starring Brooke Shields
NR, 138 Minutes, ABC News Studios/Bedby8/Drifting Cloud Productions