Review: Still Alice
PLOT: 50-year-old college professor Alice Howland learns she's suffering from a rare form of Alzheimer's disease, one that can be passed down genetically.
REVIEW: I cant imagine anything worse than slowly losing your memory. As Julianne Moores character Alice Howland says at one point in STILL ALICE, I wish I had cancer. Sounds drastic, but I honestly cant disagree; given the choice between the two, I might have to pick the latter. Theres something so insidiously awful about your brain fading away, not knowing who your friends and family are, not remembering what you went into the bedroom for... not even knowing you're suffering from this cruel malady.
This fear of Alzheimers disease is partially what makes STILL ALICE so powerful. It is, to be truthful, a good movie, though not an astounding one. It hits all the major, predictable beats and comes to all the conclusions you expect it to. But that lingering horror of thinking that could conceivably be me is what strikes a nerve - at least, for me personally. Weve all been in hospital beds before and weve all considered the fact that we could get hit by a car crossing the street, but seeing the nightmare of a deteriorating mind unfold produces a different kind of pain. STILL ALICE sells that with scary immediacy.
And then theres Julianne Moore, the center of the film and recent Oscar nominee for it. She deserves the plaudits and the gold for this one, as her Alice is an excellent creation; warm and kind in the early going, stoic and scared when the truth is made clear. About halfway through the film, as Alices symptoms really start to come to light, her pain becomes our pain, and its fairly devastating. (To be perfectly frank, I couldn't wait for the movie to end for this very reason.)
Alice is an accomplished professor at Columbia University, a loving wife to workaholic husband John (Alec Baldwin) and good mother to her three grown children, although her youngest (Kristen Stewart) has grown somewhat estranged and is living on the other side of the country trying to make it as an actress. Shortly after we meet her, Alice begins to notice instances of confusion and memory loss, throwing her professional life out of step. Thinking initially that it could be a brain tumor, shes shattered to learn shes the very early stages of Alzheimers; not only that, its a rare and genetic form of the dreaded disease, meaning it very well may be passed down to her children.
Moore is simply great, can't say it enough. We watch with growing sorrow as Alice tries to reason with the painful news that he mind is slowly being wiped out; the character's process of trying to keep her memory sharp is remarkable to watch. Moore is always a sympathetic and compelling screen presence, but shes so natural here that were forgiven if we forget shes even acting. And for a movie that initially feels like its going to have a lot of big "actor-y" moments of screaming and crying, it is refreshingly restrained in that department. Aside from one or two moments where Alice cant help but lash out, Moores performance is built on small, subtle, heartbreaking moments. The way her face goes from alert to perplexed to uncomprehending to something close to barren of all emotion- its a marvel. I cant think of a more unglamorous role filled with so many intriguing nuances.
Moore is surrounded by a very good supporting cast, including Baldwin as a concerned husband who tries to take his mind off the situation with work. (Being that its Alec Baldwin, were simultaneously meant to like him and slightly distrust his intentions.) Kristen Stewart does very good work as the rebellious daughter who must make some difficult choices of her own toward the end; Stewarts naysayers may be surprised to learn she gives a fully rounded, emotional performance that proves she can actually act. Kate Bosworth, too, is very good as a more mature daughter who comes to the horrifying realization that she too may end up with Alzheimers. And so may her unborn children.
No, this movie doesn't let anyone off easy, and that includes the audience.