Still Alice is of course, the film that secured Julianne Moore a well-deserved Oscar and this tale of a fifty year old Professor of Linguistics, struck down by Early Onset Alzheimers, becomes even more poignant with the news that writer/co-director Richard Glatzer, died just two days after the Oscar ceremony. (He suffered from the rare but equally debilitating condition ALS.) The film is surprisingly understated, avoiding the excesses of so many other medical issue dramas and it could be argued that it cuts away before things get too messy, but the enterprise is held together by Moore’s extraordinary performance, which instills a kind of creeping terror in the viewer; we’ve all experienced many of the problems she encounters here. Who hasn’t found themselves walking into a room and then drawing a blank as to why we’ve gone there? Could what we’ve dismissed as mere absent-mindedness be something more sinister?
We first encounter the eponymous Alice at a University lecture where she momentarily forgets what she’s about to say. A little later whilst jogging around her hometown, she suddenly discovers that she doesn’t recognise her surroundings, even though she’s right outside the University where she works. (This scene is terrifying.) Alice’s husband and fellow academic, John (Alec Baldwin – don’t be afraid, he’s quite good in this) tries to do what’s best for his wife, but the demands of his own career cause complications and there are more of those too for Alice’s children, when it transpires that the rare type of Alzheimer’s she’s suffering from is familial – it can be passed on to them. This is devastating news for eldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) who is trying to start a family of her own, while flakey youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) ironically manages to grow closer to her mother as her condition advances. From here, we witness the gradual disintegration of Alice’s life as with each successive day, a little more of her memory is eroded and irrevocably lost.
Still Alice isn’t a great film – indeed, with a lesser performance at it’s core, it could easily have stumbled and fallen, but it does have Moore’s intelligent and heartfelt input and that’s enough to kick it out of the stadium. I was warned that I would need a box of Kleenex for this one, but though I sat there consumed with dread throughout (my own Mother suffered with Alzheimer’s for the last ten years of her life) I managed to stay resolutely dry eyed – a testament, I think, to the fact that the story never panders to histrionics and presents a realistic portrayal of an illness that surely does require more research and investment than it’s currently receiving. Worth seeing? Yes, but mostly for Julianne Moore at the top of her game.
Good review Philip. It’s a very sad movie, but Moore gives her character, as well as us, some hope and insight into the life of this woman. Making us understand her a whole lot more.