Still Alice

Still Alice

Still Alice



Rating

Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken, Seth Gilliam, Hunter Parrish, Victoria Cartagena, Erin Darke. Written by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, from the novel by Lisa Genova.

Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of a college professor suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the affectionately-performed but grossly melodramatic Still Alice, a Disease-of-the-Week movie in which an A-list cast struggles with banal Lifetime TV material. 

Adapted by co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland from neuroscientist and author Lisa Genova’s fictional novel, Still Alice follows Dr. Alice Howland (Moore) as she is diagnosed with early-onset familial Alzheimer’s Disease and struggles through maintaining her identity as the symptoms manifest over the coming months and years. 

Those symptoms present themselves in all the predictable ways: Alice cannot remember words or (later on) people, she loses track of what she is saying mid-speech, and in one of the film’s more overwrought sequences, has a meltdown after misplacing her phone.

Throughout these scenes, which are anything but original, Moore carries the weight of the film with her affecting portrayal. It isn’t easy to effectively convey what’s going on inside this character’s mind (as she’s losing it – the novel was written in first person), but we’re there with Moore’s Alice every step of the way. 

A superb supporting cast includes Alec Baldwin as her husband, Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth as her daughters, and Hunter Parrish as her son. Each character has their own journey – Howland’s disease is genetic (each of the children may be at risk), and husband John must decide between his career and staying by his ailing wife – but one of the most affecting things about Still Alice’s portrayal of Alzheimer’s is that no matter how much support Alice might have, this is ultimately something she has to go through alone. 

Still Alice is a pretty straightforward treatment of its subject – with a lesser cast, this is the kind of thing you might expect to see on Lifetime – which is all well and good. At a certain point, however, the film threatens to go real bad, by distastefully trivializing the disease at the heart of the movie. 

That would be when the film heads into Memento territory: Alice begins leaving herself notes on her phone – questions she must answer every morning in order to make sure she still has enough of her mind left to continue in the way she wants. She also leaves herself videotaped instructions on what to do if she cannot answer these questions – namely, kill herself by overdosing on sleeping pills.

Alice loses track of the questions at some point… but, of course, stumbles upon that desktop video anyway. As she attempts to follow the suicide instructions – playing the video over and over – this over-plotted film had completely lost me. 

The story of Still Alice is entirely fictional, but the true story behind the movie is more affecting than anything on the screen: writer-director Glatzer battled ALS (a not-dissimilar neurodegenerative disease) while making the film alongside his husband (and co-director) Westmoreland. 

Glatzer passed away on March 10, 2015, a few weeks after Moore won an Oscar for her performance in his film. 


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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