Directed by Richard Glazter, Wash Westmoreland
Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin
Based on the 2007 best selling novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice tells the story of a linguistics professor as she discovers she has early onset Alzheimer’s. As Alice (Julianne Moore) struggles to adapt her routine to mitigate the deterioration in memory and cognition, her family must come to terms both with Alice’s condition, but also with the fact that they may carry the genetic markers for the disease.
This is a poignant tale gently told, looking at a condition that is little understood by society and at times feared because of it. It clearly show the sense of alienation as Alice exclaims she wishes she had cancer, so people would know how to react to her. Instead she feels that as a person “defined by intelligence and articulation” she is having that slowly torn from her and is losing her connection to society and family. This lack of awareness and stigmatisation is often emphasised by frequent references to the play Angels In America, hearkening back to the early confusion and misunderstandings about AIDS. It (and many other literary references scattered throughout) also provides a kind of nebulous spirituality to Still Alice, that a person will be remembered by their effect on others.
The centrepiece of this film is undoubtedly Julianne Moore. The actress has seen a resurgence of late and between this and her raw, honest performance in Map To The Stars, she has had a good year. Both have been garnering critical praise and awards, and this has already handed her a Golden Globe with the possibility of an Oscar to follow. Her performance here is quiet and considered, making her portrayal of the mental deterioration even more heartbreaking. She makes the audience feel genuine sympathy for her character’s plight, as towards the end there is barely a hint of recognition in the character’s eyes, a marked difference to her vibrantly articulate starting point.
Supporting her in this time of trial are her family, notably Alice’s husband (played by Alec Baldwin) and her youngest daughter (Kristen Stewart). Baldwin’s charisma does a lot to mitigate what could easily have been an unsympathetic role, that of a partner having difficulty in adjusting to what is happening to his wife, at first struggling with acceptance and then throwing himself into work to cope. As for Stewart, well surprisingly she can actually…. act! Gone is that stilted emotionless manikin of the Twilight saga, and in its place is someone that has genuine warmth and care. It is easy to believe the relationship between her and Moore, and the rediscovery of that helps to mitigate what could otherwise be a harrowing movie for the audience.
Moving, rather than overly sentimental, Still Alice is a simply (but well) handled film about a difficult subject, brought to life by some magnificent performances.