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Sundance: STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie

It all started with a pinky finger. One day Michael J. Fox noticed one of his pinky fingers was randomly twitching. That twitch progressed to more involuntary movements in his body. His body became something foreign to him. Something he was fighting against instead of working with. The loss of control was worrisome. In 1991 when Fox was 29 years old, he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that affects body movements. He spent the next several years hiding his condition, choosing to conceal his hand or constantly keep it in motion to distract from what was really going on. As one of the biggest names in pop culture at the time, thanks to his roles in Back to the Future, Teen Wolf and Family Ties, it must have been difficult to grapple with this new condition while also wanting to continue thriving in his career. There is so much more to Michael J. Fox than his Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie blends biographical documentary style and narrative storytelling to paint a portrait of an extraordinary man. The film contains a lengthy sit down interview with Guggenheim and Fox, footage of Fox’s present day life with his wife and family, re-enactments and archival clips. I was particularly impressed with the film’s transitions and how they found just the right clips to match the narrative. Fox is depicted as an empathetic figure but not one who wants or needs your pity.

STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie will stream on Apple TV+.

 

STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

SXSW: Introducing, Selma Blair

Directed by Rachel Fleit, Introducing, Selma Blair chronicles the actress’ battle with Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable disease that attacks the spinal cord and brain. Told through interviews, with Selma Blair herself and others, smartphone diaries and Instagram posts, the documentary puts a human face to this terrible disease. Blair was diagnosed in 2018 and has struggled with a variety of health and mobility issues ever since. In the film Blair is candid to a fault. It takes real vulnerability to share this difficult time in her life. She shares with the viewer her struggle with being a mom, her difficult relationship with her mother and her journey to get chemotherapy and stem cell transplants in an effort to slow the progression of her MS. The film is an intimate and revealing portrait of a unique individual faced with an incredible challenge. One can’t help but be inspired by Selma Blair’s resiliency.

Introducing, Selma Blair had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival. It’s slated to stream on Discovery+.

Sundance: CODA

What a way to kick off my very first Sundance Film Festival! The first feature film I had the pleasure to see, CODA, is a new favorite and one I’ll be recommending for months to come.

Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, CODA (an acronym for Children of Deaf Adults) stars Emilia Jones as Ruby, the only hearing member of a deaf family. Her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) manages a struggling fishing business which is bolstered by the help of his wife Jackie (Marlee Matlin), his deaf son Leo (Daniel Durant) and his hearing daughter. The family depends on Ruby to interpret on their behalf, causing her to bear more burden on the high school teenager. But Ruby is on her own journey.  Ruby joins the high school choir where she must overcome her shyness, accept the tough-love tutoring of her singing coach Bernardo (Eugenio Derbez) and expose her vulnerability to her crush and duet partner Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Can Ruby find her voice or will she have to sacrifice it to help her family survive their current hardship?

Director Siân Heder absolutely delivers with this feel-good drama that offers moments of joy, sadness and hope. CODA is funny and charming and sends its viewers on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It’s effective not only as a coming-of-age story but an exploration of a unique family dynamic. Heder cast deaf actors Matlin, Kotsur, and Durant in the roles of the deaf family members. Potential caricature is avoided with authentic and multi-dimensional characters performed by  talented actors. Representation matters and Heder clearly demonstrates that with this thoughtfully crafted film. Another way CODA is effective is in evoking empathy for the plight of the characters and not for their disability. These are fiercely independent individuals who face a battle to thrive in a society of people who do not or chose not to understand. It’s beautiful to see the way they support each other especially as their youngest, who they’ve depended on for so long, is ready to spread her wings and fly.

CODA premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

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