Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review: Still Alice

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Growing up in the 1980s, I watched my grandmother suffer through Alzheimer's, a disease that causes those afflicted with it to lose their memory and, eventually to devolve into confusion and a difficulty with speaking. "Still Alice" follows the story of a woman (Julianne Moore) who is diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's and whose greatest struggle is losing the capacity to find the right words, considering that she had made her career as a linguist.

While "Still Alice" is a good film, Moore's performance is a great one and could finally be the role to land her the Oscar, which has evaded her all these years. Moore is, in my opinion, certainly among the best actors never to have won an Academy Award. And here, she takes on a very difficult role and nails it.

Alice's family - which consists of her professor husband John Howland (Alec Baldwin) and three kids (Kristen Stewart as her youngest daughter with a dream of making it as an actor, Kate Bosworth as the grouchy older sister and Hunter Parrish as the slightly underdeveloped brother) - finds it increasingly frustrating to cope with Alice's loss for words and eventual incapacity to even recognize them.

The film does a solid job of capturing the essence of the disease, unlike other past films that portrayed Alzheimer's victims as exhibiting strange behaviors while remaining lucid enough to blurt out melodramatic lines. Here, the deterioration of Moore's character begins subtly with her finding herself not being able to grasp a specific word or forgetting that she had already asked a question of a family member. And, in a final scene, the devastating long term effects of the disease are shown in a difficult to watch moment as Stewart's character discusses a play with her mother.

Outside of Moore's marvelous performance and the film's ability to capture the disease with a sense of accuracy, "Still Alice" is not about much more than what it purports to be about. I don't mean to say that the film doesn't work overall, but so much focus is spent on Moore's deterioration that other subplots tend to exist for the purpose of giving the film's other characters some personality.

Some pictures rise or fall on the talents of their star - and "Still Alice" is one of them. Moore's performance is so effective that we forgive some of the movie's weaker elements (for example, a subplot involving Baldwin's character being offered a job away from his family isn't developed very well). It's time she is given her due.

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