People tend to forget that before Michael J. Fox came down with Parkinson’s Disease, his film career had pretty much stalled after a series of flops and he had returned to television. Doc Hollywood was one in a series of films that Fox starred in after his Back to the Future trilogy that failed to maintain his movie star status. I saw this back when it first came out in the summer of 1991 and I remember it being something that although not bad, it also didn’t generate the level of excitement that Back to the Future did. 19 years later, however, Doc Hollywood has grown on me as a charming little romantic comedy that tells the tale of a big city boy in a small town and the culture clash that ensues. Its a classic Capra-esque story that only Hollywood can tell.

Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox) is a cocky plastic surgeon who feels (and acts) like he’s on top of the world. He has just finished his residency and he’s been hired to work at an upscale clinic in Beverly Hills performing plastic surgery for the rich and famous. The movie begins as Stone completes his residency and is about to head out in his car for the long cross country drive to Los Angeles. As he drives through Georgia, however, he gets into an accident and crashes into a white picket fence, destroying every last bit of it. Unfortunately for Stone, the fence was newly built by the local judge, who sentences Ben to do community service in the little town of Grady. Stuck in hillbilly hell, Stone is consigned to perform medical services for the community as its regular doctor is out on vacation. Like with all Hollywood big city-small town stories, Stone finds that Grady is not so bad after all, which is helped by his attraction to a young woman (Julie Warner) who captures his heart.

From the first frame, its quite obvious where this film is headed. You don’t need a crystal ball to know that Fox is going to end up living in the small town and keeping the girl. Its as formulaic of a Hollywood plotline as anyone can possibly muster. However, that doesn’t make it into a bad movie by any means. I think its safe to say that most films you go out and see are movies where you already know what the outcome will be. Where the enjoyment lies is seeing HOW our characters get from Point A to Point B. Many screenwriters believe that the success of a movie lies in the strength of a film’s characters, not its narrative. The characters drive the story and this couldn’t be truer than in Doc Hollywood. However, I will admit that despite my enjoyment of the film, it is a very typical Hollywood storyline. The plot is formulaic and its been seen countless of times in movies. Again, the only thing driving it that makes it succeed is the characters and the actors who play them.

Michael J. Fox will always hold special significance for me. Back to the Future is my all-time favorite movie and a benchmark I hope to achieve in storytelling. More than Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, or Han Solo, I regard Marty McFly and Doc Brown as the greatest movie characters of my childhood. Because of this, no matter how many mediocre films Michael J. Fox has made since Back to the Future, he still ranks high in my Book of Awesome. His Ben Stone character actually reminded me a lot of Marty McFly and I’m sure that was not coincidental. Like McFly, Stone has a surefire confidence in himself. He thinks quickly on his feet and isn’t afraid to stick his neck out even if the situation looks as if its going to end in disaster (i.e. like trying to get a girl). Fox has a difficult task in turning the arrogant Stone into a likable person that the audience can cheer for and he does it convincingly.

The romantic interest in the film is played by Julie Warner, a young single mom studying to go to law school. Warner was someone who was groomed by the studio system to be the next Julia Roberts. That didn’t quite pan out for her and she’s basically been relegated to playing bit characters in various TV shows. Warner’s character is Stone’s intellectual equal and she isn’t your typical small town girl. She is the perfect challenge for Stone and her playing hard-to-get makes him that much determined to win her. I like Warner in this movie. She doesn’t possess the perfect, unnatural beauty of a Catherine Zeta-Jones or a Michelle Pfeiffer, which I think would make her small town girl character feel out of place. Warner has a natural beauty that isn’t over-the-top and that perfectly matches Fox’s unsuperstar features.

The rest of the cast beautifully rounds out the film even though the characters they play are the stereotypical small town hillbilly roles. David Ogden Stiers plays the town’s mayor (for some reason, I had a really hard time understanding what the hell he was saying). Woody Harrelson, in one of his earliest film roles, plays a hard-headed, dumb, arrogant life insurance salesman. Bridget Fonda is hilarious as the mayor’s flirtatious daughter who cannot wait to get the hell out of town and go to Hollywood. I wish I had seen a lot more of Fonda’s character as she steals the few scenes she’s in. She’s another actress who I have come to miss seeing on the big screen (check her out in Jackie Brown in her best film role to date).

Doc Hollywood also got me thinking whether small towns like Grady still exist in this country. Small towns definitely exist, but I don’t know whether the Norman Rockwell type of town you see here is still around. The closest I’ve been to a town like Grady is in Ohio, but even there you can see big city influences creeping into the fabric of the towns. The film obviously presents an idealized version of small town America, but in watching it, you can’t help but indulge in a little wishful thinking on whether such towns are still around.

I think just about anyone who watches Doc Hollywood will at the very least tolerate the movie. There is nothing original or spectacular about it, but its a well told and well made story. Its your classic Hollywood tale that provides feel-good entertainment. Its also hard not to like Michael J. Fox here, especially if you’re a big Back to the Future fan like I am.

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