Director: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Screenplay: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth & Alec Baldwin
BBFC Classification: 12
Fresh from Oscar wins and deservedly so for Julianne Moore’s brilliant central performance, Still Alice packs a punch in its straightforward and often honest look at someone dealing with Alzheimer’s but can’t always escape its indie trappings which unfortunately let it down somewhat. Moore plays Alice Howard a successful linguistics professor who loves her job, spends her days giving lectures at her beloved University and is surrounded by a loving family. When Alice begins to forget words mid-speech or where she is mid-run, she seeks the advice of a neurologist. Alice is diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease and sees her life, and the life of her family, changing drastically. At first determined to carry on and fight the onset, Alice has to adapt her life and ways to cope with the disease but is determined to still be herself and carry on as much as possible. While her loving husband (Baldwin) struggles to cope and align taking care of his ailing wife with his own career ambitions, Alice finds herself re-connecting with her youngest daughter (Stewart), the two previously having a frosty relationship, who seems to be the only one who knows how to cope with the changes in Alice.
First and foremost Julianne Moore is excellent, as Alice is a character one is not sure they always initially like or at least warm to but a character one warms to not just with what she has to go through but with what she loses. And in loses, I mean her everyday life she takes for granted, her work she is so passionate about and that she was once so capable in being what we consider “normal” but now has to adjust her life to just get through the day and remember those around her. While her family don’t abandon her they naturally cope with it in different ways. With its short and clipped style (scenes often ending abruptly, outcomes left to the audiences decision, ambiguity frustratingly marring proceedings) the film doesn’t always allow development for these supporting characters and their relationships with Alice. Her scenes with Kristen Stewart are perhaps the most successful, often warm and uplifting and feel like two real human beings re-connecting, albeit under stressful circumstances.
In fact, their relationship could have been explored more and while the film reaches a fitting and (somewhat) uplifting conclusion proceedings often feel rushed. The film also sways between hard-hitting reality and on occasion TV movie illness of the week, albeit a very indie looking and feeling TV movie of the week. I guess they're trappings that are hard to avoid when trying to merge a look at a real life condition with a dramatic narrative but the filmmakers do at least bravely look at the lengths Alice is willing to go to if things for her and her family get too hard. Despite its frustrations, Still Alice is all about its main character and the central performance from the actress that plays her. On that front it wholly succeeds, as Moore is fearless, believable and often heartbreaking. Never over or under playing she finds the right balance in-between and really makes one believe her character is suffering.
Those who like their films low key, indie and ripe for Oscars will certainly lap it up and for most of its rather short running time Still Alice is a brave and straightforward look at a person coping with a condition that one can only imagine is frightening, alienating and frustrating.
Still Alice is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Curzon Artificial Eye.
Review by Andrew Skeates