Still Alice (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Screenplay: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland (based on the novel by Lisa Genova)
Review published December 6, 2014
Lisa Genova's book of the same name provides the basis for this exploration of how early-onset Alzheimer's can have a detrimental effect on not only the person afflicted, but also the family, friends, and colleagues around them. The Alice of the title (Moore, Non-Stop) is a 50-year-old top-flight college linguistics professor who begins to think she might have a brain tumor after she finds herself not being able to remember simple things, including finding herself lost out in streets she may be walking or jogging down. Turns out it's Alzheimer's, and worse, her three children may also suffer the same fate. Now she has to try to fight the disease, knowing that it will likely be a losing battle in which all traces of who she is will dissipate, causing her to be a burden to all she knows and loves.
What on its surface seems like a television 'Movie of the Week' is bumped up several degrees thanks to the strength of Julianne Moore's central sympathetic performance, who has to continuously go through each scene with subtle but distinctive changes as the disease progresses from manageable to a severe impediment. There is a scene in which Alice is watching a video of herself back when the disease hadn't fully taken hold, and you can see just what a masterful performance Moore delivers in the contrast to what she looked and sounded like then and how much of her acuity and vitality have been drained away. A key moment in which Alice delivers a speech to a conference on Alzheimer's will probably not leave many viewers' eyes dry. That a very strong supporting turn by Kristen Stewart (Snow White and the Huntsman) is almost not even remarked upon by most critics is indicative of how powerful Moore is, though both deserve accolades.
Showcasing the heartbreak that the disease can cause, in which a mother can begin to lose the ability to recognize the sons and daughters she helped raise, and to whom she may have also passed this rare hereditary strain of the disease, Still Alice is not a pleasant subject matter, but does manage to deliver a fine presentation of how families can be ripped asunder, without going all out for cheap, Oscar-grabbing theatrics. It's still a glossy, star-powered production, but it never feels overtly manufactured.
There's a telling line in which Alice declares that she wishes she had cancer, because then she would not only be able to retain herself, but it would be far less of a burden to those around her, who will increasingly have to take care of her to the point where she needs round-the-clock supervision to make sure she doesn't get lost or hurt herself or others (a scene in which Alice is holding her newborn granddaughter is filled with an understated tension of what could potentially happen). To see oneself slip away, to not be able to remember key things, or key people, and to have them talk about you right in front of you, often exasperated at having to constantly repeat themselves as if you're this thing they have to figure out where to put so they can try to live their lives, it's all so debasing, even if even the memory of any insult one feels will be erased by tomorrow.
Still Alice is a 'subject matter' movie that isn't really breaking any cinematic ground, relying on its performances to deliver the ultimate message that Alzheimer's is a very powerful and detrimental disease that we should make every effort to find a cure to. Families who have been touched by the disease will no doubt find the subject matter resonant, if a bit grim and tough to take from an optimism standpoint, but still hopeful that such a story can spark more attention and sympathy toward funding for eradication. If you don't mind that the film is a bitter pill that doesn't seek to inspire so much as educate, Still Alice is still worth a look for its performances and for something to mull over far beyond the end-credit roll.
©2014 Vince Leo