Outstanding Star Performance
In Still Alice, a below average film elevated by an Oscar-worthy performance from an above average A-lister, Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin are fifty-something Columbia University professors living out the American Dream with three grown children, a spacious New York brownstone, and a Long Island beach house. All is right with their world until Alice (Moore) becomes concerned with her recent memory lapses and forgotten words. A trip to the neurologist reveals a diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease, a particularly debilitating strain of the condition with no known cure.
Rare for someone her age, the disease is a gruesome monster with its victims having a 50/50 chance of passing the rogue gene on to their children with a subsequent 100% chance of them contracting the condition. Which brings about an interesting conundrum: knowing that there’s nothing her children can do about it if they have the gene, does she tell them? Alice’s decision is devastating.
Afraid of the future and even more terrified of forgetting the life she’s created, Alice struggles with the rapid progression of the disease. Sadly, her sharp intellect and problem-solving brilliance as a linguist are useless in stemming the disease’s progression. Post-it notes, pop-up reminders, and smart phone calendars only temporarily stave off the disease’s pace. The screenply by co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (from a novel by Lisa Genova), does an admirable job of not only vividly illustrating the consequences of comprehending what is happening to you but also the effect it has on those around you. Naturally, the uncomfortable discussion of whether you could remain a rock by that person’s side -- if it was your spouse -- comes up, and the film perfectly illustrates the burdens on Alice’s family.
As her supportive husband, Alec Baldwin turns in his best performance in years, showing the many complex layers of frustration, sympathy, and compassion. Who knew the guy could be so caring? Kristen Stewart even steps up to the plate as Alice’s black-sheep daughter who struggles with the tug of supporting her mother while also making a go at a career in acting. She shows an emotional depth not seen from her in quite some time.
But the film wouldn’t work without the outstanding performance of Julianne Moore. Just when we thought she couldn’t get any better, the role of Alice comes along with the chance to stack yet another level of distinction onto her already towering set of accomplishments. This one might win her an Oscar. We watch in awe as the many emotions of her Alice come across so effortlessly. She must be strong, intelligent, vulnerable, and provocative to pull off a role like this. She’s often all those things in a single scene.
But the film sporadically falters with its rather straightforward presentation. Sometimes resembling a made-for-TV movie or even a glitzy PSA piece at times -- complete with the requisite melodrama, Still Alice exhibits a simplicity and lack of creative imagination that usually warrants a few critical knocks. However, with such a strong and powerfully overwhelming subject matter, any amount of glitzy production value might have been a detraction. As it is, Still Alice emerges as a strong film that overcomes its melodramatic tendencies and lack of imagination with strong acting performances and a subject matter badly needing the attention.
(Released by Sony Pictures Classic and rated “PG-13” for mature thematic material and brief language including a sexual reference.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.