2014, PG-13, 101 min. Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Feb. 13, 2015
Is there a more insidious disease than Alzheimer’s? Leaving the body intact but obliterating our memories, our words, and eventually our identities? That is a horrifying future to consider, one that Julianne Moore brings to striking clarity in Still Alice. Based on the 2007 novel by Lisa Genova, Moore’s much-lauded performance of a person disappearing before our eyes is a heartbreaking thing to behold; it’s unfortunate that the film around her can't rise above the level of uninspired melodrama.
Moore plays Alice Howland, a renowned professor of linguistics at Columbia University. Her husband, John (Baldwin) is a research scientist, and their three grown children are living fulfilling lives, even youngest daughter Lydia (Stewart), who, eschewing her mom’s advice about college, is struggling to make it as an actor in L.A. It’s a very idyllic, middle-class, New York lifestyle for Alice until she begins to forget words, becomes lost in familiar settings, and has to look up beloved family recipes. Seeking medical help, she is eventually diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, a rare, genetic variation of the disease to boot, and her life is forever altered. The disease begins to cripple her cognitive skills, rendering her a shell of the woman she once was. As Alice’s mental state deteriorates, her family must contend with the consequences.
The film’s focus on Alice’s perspective is by design, but that leaves the supporting characters in the lurch, not given much to do but comment on and react to her condition (the exception is Stewart, who gives a nuanced and heartfelt performance). A subplot concerning her children inheriting the disease is dramatically introduced and subsequently forgotten (no pun intended), and a thread involving John transferring to another state goes nowhere. And while, in places, the film attempts to break the mold of the usual “disease of the week” tropes, it has them in spades. The cloying score by Ilan Eshkeri, the poignant public speech that is seriously the worst (she drops her notes! she recovers!), and the info-dump diagnosis scenes that play out like monotone PSAs all unwittingly undermine a great performance. So, see Still Alice if you need to augment your day with some catharsis, see Still Alice to better handicap your Oscar-pool odds, or see Still Alice for a(nother) great performance by Moore in an otherwise tepid film. When she wins the Academy Award, I’m just going to pretend it was for Todd Haynes’ 1995 masterpiece, Safe, and leave it at that.