'Still Alice' is an honest look at the devastation wreaked by Alzheimer's
PHOTO BY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre, Stadium 10
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $8.00
What's it worth?: $7.50
Renowned Columbia University linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore, who won a Best Actress in a Leading Role Academy Award for her performance) slowly begins forgetting words, which leads to the devastating diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Now the happily married mother of three discovers the limits of her family bonds. (101 min.)
Glen: Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease, one that strips patients of dignity, and, more importantly, the ability to comprehend what’s happened to them. Consequently, this film is depressing as hell. If you come in hoping for a triumph over disease, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, Still Alice chronicles the tragic progression of early onset Alzheimer’s, the toll it takes on the family of the loved one, and the inevitable result of this incurable affliction. Of course, a lot of films are depressing, but they’re still worth seeing, and this one is especially worthy thanks to a remarkable performance by Moore. We’re writing this review before the 2015 Academy Awards, but I won’t be the least bit surprised if Moore takes home the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar. She strikes all the right notes here, first of denial of her symptoms, then of confusion, depression, desperation, and then near total befuddlement. At one point, Alice tells her husband, “I wish I had cancer.” People understand that disease, she explains, and being understood is what she longs for.
Anna: Julianne Moore gives an amazing performance, capturing what a difficult and heartbreaking experience it must be to slip away into Alzheimer’s disease. The film begins with Alice’s 50th birthday, and shortly after that, she starts seeing a neurologist. She’s been forgetting words, she got lost while running, and she feels like she’s losing her mind. When she finally tells her husband that she’s been seeing a doctor, his first reaction is to tell her that there’s nothing wrong with her; everyone forgets words or where you put the keys. Alice is understandingly frustrated and angered that he isn’t taking her seriously, not seeing what a serious problem may be lying under the surface. We watch her diagnosis and realization that her rare form of Alzheimer’s may have been passed on to her children. Then the living begins: Alice makes lists for herself, practices memory exercises, and tries as
best she can to ward off the disease that is creeping further and further
into her mind.
Glen: Based on a novel by Lisa Genova, the film is co-written and co-directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmorland, who collaborated on Quinceañera (2006) and The Last Robin Hood (2013). They definitely make some interesting choices. Toward the end, there’s a montage with a series of colorful close-ups of what might be candy sprinkles then Fruity Pebbles cereal then fish eggs … the point being we see but are unsure of what’s before us. It’s familiar, but we’re uncertain. Are the “fish eggs” plastic BBs? We don’t know, and like Alice, we’re lost for a minute. The film’s also aided by a fine performance from Alec Baldwin and—I hate to admit it, since she usually seems so vacuous—Kristen Stewart, who still does too much lip biting and eye smoldering to be taken fully seriously, but she also manages to construct a believable struggling actress and free spirit. Her character, Lydia, turns out to be most capable of giving her mother what she needs even though she’s the black sheep of the family. The family dynamics between Alice’s three kids—Lydia, Anna (Kate Bosworth), and Tom (Hunter Parrish)—feels real, so kudos to the co-writers/directors for crafting something that feels true but could have easily been treacle-drenched caricature. Instead, this is an honest examination of a terrible disease and how it can strain family relations.
Anna: I thought the filmmakers did a great job of letting the audience in on what it would feel like to be in Alice’s head, to feel that confusion and frustration. When she gets lost on campus while running, they blur out her surroundings, making what she sees every day suddenly unfamiliar and frightening. They also managed to make the family dynamics feel very honest. When we first are introduced to her youngest daughter Lydia, Alice pleads with her to go to college, to have a back-up plan for if and when her acting career doesn’t work out. Alice wants her to be like her older children: driven and academic. Yet in the end, it is Lydia who can stay and care for her mom in her home because she isn’t in medical school like her brother, isn’t a lawyer raising children like her older sister, or under a demanding teaching schedule like her father. Alzheimer’s isn’t a happy ending, and this film doesn’t try and give it one. It is sad, heartbreaking even, but totally worth the tears to watch Moore’s portrayal of Alice and a supporting cast that helps to weave this bittersweet story.
Split Screen is written by New Times staff writer Glen Starkey and his wife Anna. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.