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STILL ALICE

March 4, 2015

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Suffering from or knowing someone that is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease brings with it a loss of huge permanence. What is highlighted in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Still Alice (based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel) is the foresight of knowing your once personal and wholly individual stream of consciousness will be forever disrupted and ripped away.

Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, a 50 year old mother of three and renowned Linguistics professor who, after suffering from various levels of memory loss, seeks medical help and discovers that she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. “I wish I had cancer” pretty much sums up her reaction to the news and in a cruel twist of fate, the disease is hereditary and will more than likely affect her grown up children.

The story itself is not perfect with some moments feeling almost contrived, to make the situation more dramatic. Yes this is a story and yes there has to be an element of the ‘heightened’ but it feels far more forced than subtle. Oldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth), for instance, is desperately trying to conceive and once she finally gets pregnant, she finds out the disease is almost certainly going to be passed on to her and subsequently her unborn child. Alice’s strong career in Lingustics too is so specific and makes the tragic loss of her mind that much worse. The script has a strong undercurrent of sappy Lifetime movie that’s unable to shake off.

Glatzer and Westmoreland’s direction is subtle with some extremely effective and heart-stopping shots. A relatively early moment finds Alice completely lose all memory of where she is whilst jogging, despite being on the very campus where she works. The camera dizzyingly spins around her as it closely follows the dread and confusion that litters her face. It is an extraordinarily tense scene that ensures viewers feel the subjectivity and horror of the moment, leading also into much more upsetting scenes when Alice’s illness has started to reach a critical point. Once it has progressed towards the latter part of the film, it is the behaviour of those around her that offer the highest severity of what this awful illness has caused.

This is very much a performance-led film. A starry cast including Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart reaches its pinnacle with Moore. The disease seems to all but obliterate Alice’s individuality and essence and Moore takes us through every step with precision and a fighting spirit. The actress ceases to become a stereotype or a presumption, instead maintaining a realness and capturing this woman’s authority, intelligence and love for her family. Moore tackles the character’s overridden-self later on with care and it is credit to both her and the directors that this remains understated, yet at the heart, devastating.

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As youngest child Lydia, Stewart is hardly a revelation but there are frequent glimpses of passion and her and Moore’s often misunderstood but close mother/ daughter bond is a convincing one. There’s also a powerful and sweet honesty between them which adds substantial depth to the film. Unfortunately, Stewart has a tendency to carry the same tense facial expressions in every role – this one not being an exception. It’s hard to truly believe the character as it doesn’t appear she has become fully absorbed in it.

Flawless it ain’t, but Still Alice succeeds in dealing with a sensitive subject in a broad and intelligent way. Moore is extraordinary and the Oscar she just won for this role is her long-overdue consecration as one of the best female performers of our time.

Still Alice is released in UK cinemas on March 6th

Samuel Sims