Sunday, January 18, 2015

Movie Review: "Still Alice"

Julianne Moore, meet Oscar. Oscar, meet Julianne Moore. You've flirted with each other a few times before, but I believe you're going to become very close friends in about a month or so...

Alice Howland (Moore) is a brilliant linguistics professor. She's one of the leading researchers in the field, having written the definitive textbook used in university classes, and is sought after for presentations. She's always been driven to have it all, and have it all she does—a successful marriage with John (Alec Baldwin), a scientist; three grown children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristen Stewart); and a fulfilling career.

Suddenly she starts noticing strange things are occurring—she forgets familiar words during a presentation, she gets easily distracted and forgets what she is doing, and one day during a run she becomes completely confused about where she is. She fears a brain tumor or other disease, but she is not expecting the ultimate diagnosis, early onset Alzheimer's disease. Alice's decline is rapid, and she worries about being a burden on her family and having no quality of life once the disease takes its full toll on her mind.

Still Alice follows Alice and her family through the deterioration of her condition. Tension between her two daughters comes to light, as her more driven daughter (Bosworth) can't understand why the flightier, aspiring actress daughter (Stewart) won't abandon her dreams of a life in Los Angeles and come home to help care for their mother. Alice wants her husband to take a sabbatical while she's still able to enjoy it, but he's not willing to let his own scientific career languish. And for Alice, having to cede control of her life and her mind is one of the worst things she ever thought she'd have to deal with.

Moore is absolutely fantastic in this movie. She's courageous, vulnerable, stubborn, angry, and determined to do things her own way for as long as she can. While this is an emotional movie, Moore never goes for the histrionic way out—her performance is so layered, so human. One scene in which she prepares a speech to deliver to the Alzheimer's Association is particularly poignant—she wants to give a scientific-focused speech to prove her mind still works, although her daughter thinks her speech should be more personal. I challenge you to watch her speech and not at least tear up.

My only regret about this movie is I didn't feel that the majority of Moore's co-stars performed to her level. While Stewart has a few moments where she doesn't seem like the petulant, totally-over-it-all character she often portrays, I thought Baldwin and Bosworth were particularly flat. (I think it was a combination of their performances and their odious characters.) But this is Moore's movie, and she isn't brought down in the least by those around her.

If you've ever experienced a loved one forgetting who you are, or watching a person you care about struggle to remember something, anything, this movie will touch you, and may even be difficult to watch. But the truth is, it never gets as hard to watch and deal with as I feared it would. (I will admit that the novel it's based on, by Lisa Genova, wrecked me even more when I read it about five or so years ago.)

Bring your tissues, and prepare to be dazzled and moved by Moore's performance and Alice's story. If there's any justice, next month Moore will finally win the Oscar that has eluded her so far in her career.

1 comment:

  1. Though distinctly tragic, there is something refreshing in watching a family on screen that is not defined by bickering, jealousy, and spite. They all care for one another and want to do the right thing.