‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ Review: A Star’s Dignity
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‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie’ Review: A Star’s Dignity

Weaving together film clips, dramatic re-creations and interviews with the actor, this affecting documentary on Apple TV+ explores his life with Parkinson’s disease.

Fri, May 12, 2023 8:43amGrey Clock 3 min

This is probably less a critique than a thank-you note to director Davis Guggenheim and to the subject of “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” a marriage of exhilaration and sadness and, despite the title, the most moving thing on television. Mr. Fox was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars when he was diagnosed in 1991 with Parkinson’s disease, which finally forced his full retirement in 2021. His sense of humour remains a wonder. Something most viewers will only have to wonder, fortunately, is whether they would maintain the same dignity under the same set of circumstances.

The title, “Still,” describes something the actor never seemed to be, as evidenced by the voluminous collection of film clips Mr. Guggenheim uses to structure much of the film—Mr. Fox was always running, from “Teen Wolf,” to “The Secret of My Success,” to “Bright Lights, Big City,” to the blockbuster “Back to the Future” franchise and in and out of “Family Ties,” the sitcom that established his comedy credentials and wide appeal. Much of the background action, as well as Mr. Fox’s early biography, is covered through dramatic re-creations and otherwise unconnected film scenes knitted into a coherent narrative. The research must have been strenuous; the editing, too. The pace is nonstop, the humour abundant, the devotion of Mr. Fox’s wife, actress Tracy Pollan, is made plain, and there’s no small amount of nostalgia in store for people who know and love the Fox filmography. But the heart and soul of the film are the face-to-face interviews, which are far less delicate than one might expect. And all the deeper for it.

Seven interviews were conducted over the span of a year, and at one point Mr. Fox and his director (an Oscar winner for “An Inconvenient Truth”) are getting back together after some time, the subject recounting how he basically had, in the interim, fallen and broken his face. Mr. Guggenheim reacts with alarm; his subject is almost blasé. “Gravity is real,” he says, laughing. “Even if you’re only falling from my height.” During a walk along Fifth Avenue with an aide, Mr. Fox is recognised by a fan and when he turns to say hello back, he topples to the sidewalk. “You knocked me off my feet,” he tells the passerby. Everyone smiles, but it breaks your heart.

“I can see in your eyes that you’ve got a great one-liner,” Mr. Guggenheim says to the actor at a point in their exchanges, “and then it has a problem getting to your mouth.” Mr. Fox doesn’t disagree; he doesn’t have to, and often lets a nonresponse compensate when a response would be thwarted by his ailment. As Mr. Guggenheim says, the predictable storyline in a Michael J. Fox movie now would be about a huge star getting a debilitating disease and being crushed by it. “Yeah,” Mr. Fox says, “that’s boring.” Nothing in “Still” is the least bit boring.

Nor is it preachy, or weepy, or looking for pity for its subject, who isn’t looking for any either. He does recall feeling at some point, post-diagnosis, that he was somehow reaping cosmic payback for the enormous if less-than-overnight success he had enjoyed after several seemingly immovable objections fell and he was cast in “Family Ties.” (His tales of Hollywood poverty are close to harrowing although, as he might say, he got over it.) If there’s a flaw in “Still,” it might be Mr. Fox’s reluctance to discuss his physical agony or the psychic struggle that comes with Parkinson’s. (“The worst thing is to be confined,” he says, answering one of Mr. Guggenheim’s very direct questions. “To have no way out.”) You come close, Mr. Guggenheim says about Mr. Fox discussing his pain, “and then you dart away.” But that is a principal reason his subject, and film, are so involving and watchable and rich.


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Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch

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Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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