Still Alice (2014)

Review #1,136

Director:  Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Cast:  Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth
Plot:  Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words.  When she receives a devastating diagnosis, Alice and her family find their bonds tested.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actress.
Runtime:  101min
Rating:  PG13 for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference.

“Who can take us seriously when we are so far from who we once were?”

If the Academy is still not convinced enough by Julianne Moore's performance in Still Alice to give her the Oscar, then I suggest they should step down.  Moore is one of the most competent actresses working today, or better still, for the last two decades, and she is overdue an Oscar, after being nominated four times previously.  One of her greatest performances was for Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven (2002), which she ought to have won.  But here's another opportunity for Moore to finally clinch that elusive award. 

She plays Dr. Alice Howland, an esteemed professor of linguistics, who has written core textbooks in her field and is widely-respected as an academic.  She is also a terrific mother of three grown children, and is wife to a doting husband (Alec Baldwin).  Until she is diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's disease…

Still Alice, an indie family drama that is pushed into the limelight because of Moore's emotionally vulnerable and heartfelt performance, is a film that is at ease with its simplicity and dramatic honesty.  There is nothing flamboyant or attention-seeking about the filmmaking, except the flamboyance of loss, which is the key theme of the film. 

In a remarkable sequence midway where Moore's character gives a speech about the art of losing (memory) in front of Alzheimer patients and researchers, she is surprisingly restrained.  That, I would like to think, is the flamboyance of loss, and it is restrained.  Losing memory is terrifying, and one of the things that the film does well is to make us feel that same way.  We empathize with Moore's character, as well as her family.

While the quietly recurring melancholic piano theme underscores the inevitability of loss, the sometimes discordant strings that the filmmakers use reminds us of the madness and utter incomprehensibility of living with an Alzheimer's patient. 

The drama that unfolds in Still Alice may be straightforward, sometimes even perfunctory to the plot.  But when the final scene comes, you won't know it.  It's abrupt, but on hindsight, I believe the filmmakers have shown excellent grasp of tone, and yes, remarkable restraint, when the temptation to do so otherwise seems to be on the cards.

Verdict:  This indie family drama centering on Alzheimer’s disease boasts an emotionally vulnerable and heartfelt performance by the excellent Julianne Moore.


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