Film Review – Still Alice
Alzheimer’s movies have become Oscar bait and for the worst possible reasons. This is a disease that is one of the most easy emotional pulls for people, not just that so many of us have known someone with this disease but it also brings out a great fear in us of forgetting what makes us, us. Thematically this can become problematic as many times these films depend on this horror to be enough to hook you while doing little else. Still Alice not one of these films. This takes Alzheimer’s and gives it a face and shows the slow but sad progression of this disease and is embodied by the transcending performance of Julianne Moore.
Alice (Julianne Moore) is a successful woman on so many fronts when we first see her. She is a celebrated linguistic professor at Columbia, she is happily married to her equally successful husband John Howland (Alec Baldwin) and is close with her children. Her two oldest, Anna (Kate Bosworth) and Tom (Hunter Parrish) are both doing well. Only the youngest Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who is trying to be an actress, has any real friction with her mother, but it is more out of Alice worrying she will not have stability in her life and not downright disapproval.
Later on Alice starts to notice she is forgetting words at odd moments and she gets lost jogging (which is shot by making everything around her blurry which makes for an effect I am still not certain works but it was an interesting idea). She becomes worried and seeks to find out what is happening and discovers that she is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s and as we jump in time the way she carries herself changes and we see how much she is losing at each step in time.
One of the hardest scenes to watch is a message she has left for herself on the computer for when she has gotten beyond any hope. It ironically wasn’t in the message she left herself but was in how she looked. Her computer face was so professionally sure of herself and where she is at now so confused and innocent in many ways she looks at herself like a child listening to an adult she knows she should listen too.
This is an emotional gut punch and I felt like I wanted to cry throughout the whole film (even though I didn’t). There were some odd choices in terms of cuts between scenes were the sense of how much time has passed was disorientating and yet, I would think on it and find a way for it to work. When she loses time we lose it with her and it makes for a stronger sense of the confusion she herself is going through. What makes so much of her progression with this disease effective is that there is no “big” moment, she doesn’t get lost in the city, there is no disaster where she almost burns down the house, it is just moments that she is disoriented, or repeats a question several times. The momentum builds slowly even knowing where this is going and yet you do not know how it will all connect for them in the end.
Julianne Moore is this film in every sense. Many have said this is her playing a role to get her an Oscar because she is overdue. I categorically deny this, even if she did do it to win an Oscar I do not care because she is doing some of her best work in this film and she deserves all the accolades. I already cannot imagine anyone else in this role. Moore portrays this strong independent woman in such a fascinating way, seeing her outbursts of fear, the blunt moments of pragmatism, and just watching her face and mannerisms as she slowly shows the progression of this disease and how you become not yourself.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there was one scene that didn’t entirely work for me, which is when Alice speaks at the Alzheimer’s Association. Her reasons for speaking do make sense thematically and the conversation she has with Lydia beforehand was telling for where these two are when it comes to expressing what the disease is for them both. Yet when so much of what she is going through came through in more natural moments throughout the film, this was just a little too much on the nose when so much else about her experience was more gracefully done. Luckily it is short and we move on quickly and she does say some interesting things I just wish it had been said in a better context.
With Moore at the center the supporting cast doesn’t get a chance to do much. Baldwin is supportive but his character is distant and doesn’t know how to deal so doesn’t get a chance to shine.
Kate Bosworth as the eldest daughter is also very cliched as the uppity golden girl, yet she is not entirely to blame, in part because of who does get more focus which is Kristen Stewart. Who is the artistic rebel striking her own path and even her own cliché but manages to move beyond that by being the person who really talks with her mom and trying to understand her, this is done by small conversations (many on Skype) avoiding it becoming this huge emotional moment.
This is usually the kind of movie I have trouble taking seriously because they usually seem to be shooting for emotional manipulation and avoiding any real in-depth look. This film did not do this and I will even admit that it got to me as I wrote the review and I found myself getting sad and thinking about what it would be like to revisit this movie and thinking how much else I could get out of it. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland did great work but so much of this is Julianne Moore in this part. She was the female lead role I have been dying to see all of last year, something that was so amazing I cannot imagine seeing anything better.