Movies

Standing still, 'Alice' moves

Julianne Moore strides toward Oscar as an Alzheimer's sufferer

There's a master class in screen acting coming to a theater near you, which is reason enough (for those who care about such things) to see "Still Alice." Heavily favored to take home a Best Actress trophy at this year's Oscars, Julianne Moore plays the titular character afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer's.

Movies about illness cut with a double-edged sword: In one sense, they're a sure thing. Most all potential audience members fear death and the diseases that precipitate it, Alzheimer's being one of the cruelest. On the other hand, films about disease run a real risk of earning the "disease-of-the-week" label, born of a time when such stories of struggling against illness dotted the network-TV (and, later, Lifetime cable) landscape.

As adapted by writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (last year's "The Last of Robin Hood"), "Still Alice" derives from a 2007 bestselling novel by Lisa Genova. The premise immediately puts skeptical viewers on guard with its overly neat irony: Dr. Alice Howland is a cognitive-psychology professor (and world-renowned linguistics expert) who's uniquely qualified to understand what the degenerative disease is doing to her as it proceeds on its death march, as well as to devise coping mechanisms to attempt to delay the inevitable. At the tender age of 50, Alice is also a statistical rarity, which is, of course, no comfort.

The plot, such as it is, concerns how Alice handles her illness, personally and psychologically, as well as troubleshooting its impact on her career, her family members and their relationships. Husband John (Alec Baldwin), a research scientist, is sympathetic but perhaps insufficiently empathetic, his practical-mindedness threatening his ability to love Alice to the nth degree as her disease demands. Their kids (Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish) don't much lack for loving concern, but have the additional worry of wondering -- or perhaps worse, coming to know by testing -- whether they have inherited the genetic markers of Alzheimer's.

Through it all, we stick closely to Alice's side as she frets about not being a burden and determines not to live past her mind's expiration date. It's all extremely upsetting and deeply sad, but "Still Alice" never distinguishes itself through style and metaphor (as did the 2012 French drama "Amour") and rarely achieves grace in story, dialogue or character dynamics (as did Sarah Polley's 2006 "Away From Her," also about the devastation of Alzheimer's on a marriage).

Still, the film hums with humanity in the person of Moore, whose towering performance shows a staggering technical proficiency (the low-budget film could not afford to shoot in sequence, compounding Moore's challenge) and never loses a whit of emotional resonance. Moore invites us inside Alice's pain and frustration and fear, and it becomes ours (kudos too to Stewart for maximizing her scenes as the family's black sheep, whose sensitivity suddenly makes her an M.V.P.).

In preparing us for the human dimensions of disease, "Still Alice" ends up something of a class act.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference. One hour, 41 minutes.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 4:41 pm

None of these Alzheimer's movies come close, particularly "Away From Her"
to covering this huge subject. They are like token efforts at being social
responsible. They pull certain strings to get people to watch the movie and
talk sentimentally about it, but what is really needed is not a soppy story, but
real insightful incidents.

"Still Alice" from the trailer, here:

Web Link

looks interesting, but it seems to be just a series of what can happen
or things that from the outside all of us do, grasp for a word sometimes
and forget an appointment.

Movies are really just not the art form I suppose for this subject, as
hey say art imitates life, but in his care art that imitates life to closely
is art no one will really want to see it because Alzheimer's and dementia
in general is the cold uncompromising black hole of existence.

It's important for people to understand dementia and other diseases
as well, and what do people do about them in reality, not in the fantasy
money-free world of the movies. And then too, these are rich educated
people with plenty of money and huge support systems.

I hope this movie ups the level of dialog about this subject, and given
previous efforts on this subject that might not be hard, but it would be
hard to really deliver anything of value other than the feeling of doing
something positive while not really doing something at all that a viewer
might feel good about. Maybe that is just where we are in terms of
this, especially in the US because of the way we seem to blow off
medical care as a privilege.

I'm not sure I can see Alex Baldwin as a research scientist. ;-)


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