REVIEW: Still Alice

16 02 2015

Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland adapted “Still Alice” from a novel by Lisa Genova.  But had I not known that going in, I would have assumed the film was based on a play.

The directors shoot the film with a gentle, soft, and unobtrusive light.  The lines flow nicely.  The scenes feel distinct and compartmentalized.  Heck, the film even ends by literally ripping out the final page from “Angels in America,” one of the American dramatic classics!

What ultimately separates “Still Alice” from the stage, however, is the masterfully detailed performance of Julianne Moore.  She stars as Alice Howland, a 50-year-old linguistics professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and the camera-eye of the cinema is necessary to observe her slow deterioration.  Since seeing the decay of her brain is impossible, her illness has to manifest itself in the tiniest twitches of Moore’s face.

Like fellow 2014 release “The Theory of Everything,” which followed a physical rather than a mental degeneration, “Still Alice” derives its very narrative motion from discerning which faculty will disappear next.  In other words, the filmmakers invite gaping and marveling at the technically proficient acting on display behind the figurative glass cage of the screen.  The film plays almost as suspenseful in its measured anticipation of a firm break from reality by Alice, and credit Moore for turning in a performance so gentle and full of integrity that her character’s normalcy inspires unease.

As the protagonist inches towards her inevitable end, “Still Alice” proves quietly devastating.  How much of this heartbreak comes from Alice herself, as opposed to all the iconography Julianne Moore brings with her to the role, is entirely debatable.  At one point towards the close of the film, Alice proclaims, “This is not who we are, this is our disease.”  Yet Glatzer and Westmoreland largely do away with exposition and cut straight to the harsh reality of her condition, thus reducing Alice to little more than her condition.

Nonetheless, “Still Alice” does a great job conveying just how scary it can be to struggle with – not suffer from – Alzheimer’s.  This fight does not limit itself to Alice herself, of course; it also affects her immediate family, from slightly aloof husband John (Alec Baldwin) to her free-spirited daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) on the opposite coast.  I find it hard to dislike a movie that advocates for something of value.  Whether its cause célèbre is Alzheimer’s research or Julianne Moore’s Oscar campaign, though, provides another topic of debate altogether.  B2halfstars

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One response

18 02 2015
polarbears16

Definitely liked this one. Some flaws for sure, but undeniably moving in places, and Moore gave a really great performance.

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