Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish
Based on the novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova
In Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays Dr. Alice Howland, 50, a celebrated psycholinguistics professor at Columbia. During the middle of a lecture, she draws a blank on a word related to her research. She apologizes, smiles and after a long pause fills the sentence with the word “thingy”. Shortly after, as she is jogging around campus her vision becomes blurry and she becomes absolutely disoriented. She tries to find known places, but nothing looks familiar.
As she grows concerned about the state of her mental health, Alice decides to see a neurologist and is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The movie vividly depicts Alice’s struggle to stay connected with her family and with herself as the disease progresses over the course of two years.
The film focuses on Alice’s deterioration and how the illness affects her relationships. Overall, Still Alice embraces the value of life and provides an unabashed window into the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. Alice constantly reminds us that the present is all we have and that we must “live in the moment.”
For the most part, Glatzer and Westmoreland’s film is a fairly close adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel. The directors, who also wrote the screenplay, introduce some minor differences to their advantage. For instance, the book has Alice working at Harvard and living in Cambridge, as opposed to New York City where the film takes place. The novel is set in 2004, whereas the film takes place in the present. This allows Glatzer and Westmoreland to incorporate more technology into Alice’s life. As the disease evolves, she becomes dependent on her phone and laptop, since she needs them to set reminders and communicate with her children.
A major point Still Alice drives home is how we can fail to empathize with patients. This is obvious from a scene in which Alice forgets the time a play starts, despite being reminded multiple times. Her children argue about how to address this. Should they keep repeating the answer until she remembers, trying to jog her memory? Are they “enabling” her by doing so? Maybe they should simply ignore the question, since they aren’t planning to leaving Alice behind anyway. This discussion happens in front of Alice as if she were not in the same room.
Kristen Stewart plays Lydia, the youngest of Alice’s children and the black sheep of the family. Lydia refuses to go to college, increasing the tension between her and Alice. Stewart offers an emotional performance as the only family member who truly listens to Alice. As her mother’s disease progresses, Lydia’s relationship with her improves. Despite Alice’s condition, they find ways to connect with each other and create stronger bonds.
While perhaps not convincing as a scientist, Alec Baldwin deftly portrays Jon, Alice’s supportive and caring husband. He manages to capture Jon’s conflict between caring for Alice and advancing in his personal career. Should Moore win the Oscar, Baldwin will probably become the first actor to have been “married” to back-to-back winners. Last year he played Cate Blanchett’s husband in Blue Jasmine.
But the main performance of the film comes from Julianne Moore who shows, once more, that she is one of the best actresses of her generation. We see her progression from a confident and resourceful speaker to a mother who can barely find the words to express herself. Slowly, she becomes unable to do the things she once enjoyed, like reading, teaching, or doing research.
In a memorable scene, a year after being diagnosed, Alice is invited to deliver the keynote speech at an Alzheimer’s conference. She musters all her strength to focus on the words, but her papers get mixed up and she loses her thread. For a minute, she becomes disoriented again and her confidence shatters. Unwilling to give up, Alice reorganizes her speech and finishes strong.
Moore has already earned numerous recognitions for her performance. She’s won every major award leading up to the BAFTAs and, after five nominations, she will likely take home the big statue come Oscar night.