"Still Alice" (2014)
Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a renowned linguistic professor, known for her brilliant mind and her teaching skills. She is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin), a scientist, and they live near the Columbia University campus. They have three grown children; Anna (Kate Bosworth), a married working lawyer who is trying to get pregnant. Tom (Hunter Parrish) is a medical student who is always talking shop with his father. Lydia (Kristen Stewart) is the black sheep of the family who has quit college to become an actress. The subject of Lydia going back to school is a constant source of topic with Alice.
Alice starts noticing that she is having trouble concentrating, getting lost in her lectures for moments in time, losing track of her keys and forgetting appointments or dinner plans. At first, she attributes it to being overworked or tired. When she gets lost on her own campus while running, it becomes evident that it's more than just being tired. She goes to see a specialist and gets hit hard with the news that she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. As the film progresses, she slowly tells family, friends and co-workers her condition as the disease becomes more and more a part of her life.
This is another film in a long line of movies that I have seen recently where the sum of its parts don't measure up to the cast's performances, especially in this case, the brilliant leading lady. The film's weakness is the script, written by the directors of the movie, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. The film never quite finds its footing, making the film seem, at times, a little empty. It's a movie that should move you to tears but outside of a memorable scene between Moore and Stewart near the end of the film, there just aren't that many emotional scenes. I also would have liked to have seen more from the perspective of her husband and children. Glatzer and Westmoreland seem only to want to make the husband and children as almost outsiders to Alice's character. One of the many heartbreaking things about this illness is how it greatly affects the families of those stricken, especially those who are given the task of caretaker. There is very little action or discussion on how the family is handling Alice's illness and why they are doing it a certain way. The kids, other than Stewart, are often an afterthought to the story, only showing up when it's necessary.
I liked Alec Baldwin in the role of the husband. It's a hard role to portray because, as the disease progresses, we get to see more and more of John's real character, making him almost unlikable near the end of the film. He and Moore have great chemistry together, making their early conversations believable and enjoyable to watch. Kristen Stewart gives an inspiring and moving performance as the daughter who is driven to be an actress and is willing to struggle to become one. It's an impressive performance, as Stewart's plays off of Moore, letting Moore carry the scenes with Stewart just reacting off her lead. It helps that Stewart is playing the most likable character in the film, as she sacrifices her own well-being to help her mother cope with the illness.
Moore is the center of the movie and lets scenes just sort of roll through her. It's a heartbreaking performance that lesser actors would stumble with, but Moore isn't afraid of the role, and performs it with a passion. She is so good at playing off other actors, truly hearing and reacting to them, making her so believable in the role. Moore shows us the frustration in her face as her character struggles to remember something simple, like her kid's names. She also gives us those few and far between little victories, where her character is able to remember how to do something or remember a person's face. Moore's most impressive scenes are in the first half of the film; especially the scenes where she realizes that she can no longer do her job. Day to day, living is going to be a struggle for Alice, and it shows in Moore's face and body language. Moore seems to waste away before our eyes as the disease takes more and more from her. This condition is made harder by the fact that at the beginning of the film, we saw Alice at her most vibrant and confident, a woman that Moore portrays as whip-smart and sure in everything she does.
The score of the film by Ilan Eshkeri does a masterful job helping set the mood of the scenes without being obvious or overbearing. I especially loved the cinematography by Denis Lenoir. His use of focusing the scene on Moore, as she stands out in focus and letting the rest of the background be blurry is a perfect technique to gives us the feeling of isolation and confusion that Alice is feeling.
While "Still Alice" has a memorable portrayal by Kristin Stewart and an Oscar worthy performance by Julianne Moore, it can't overcome a script that doesn't fully explore its characters and never delivers the knockout blow of emotion that a film of this type calls for. It's still worth seeing due to Moore's outstanding performance, but just know that you will walk away wanting more. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
"Still Alice" is now playing in theatres nationwide.
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