Still Alice (****)
Running Time: 99 minutes
Directors: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Starring – Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kirsten Stewart and Kate Bosworth
(Glasgow Film Festival Screening, Glasgow Film Theatre, 22/02/2015)
JULIANNE Moore gives a towering central performance in the heart-tugging drama Still Alice, a film which deals with a successful linguistics professor’s mental deterioration following the onset of a rare form of early Alzheimer’s whilst still in her early 50’s.
Whilst other films have predominately dealt with Alzheimer’s from the point of view of a friend or family member, struggling to comprehend with that’s happening to a loved one; here we see the drama unfolding primarily through Alice’s eyes. Based on Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name, the film’s screenplay was adapted by its directors, Walsh Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer. They’ve carried the ethos of Genova’s novel onto the big-screen, rather than letting it get bogged down by the medical and scientific explanations of what’s happening to Alice, the film attempts to explore what it actually feels like for someone to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
We watch as what starts out as simple forgetfulness for Alice, soon develops into much more as her mental deterioration escalates. Despite moments of crystal clarity, over-time Alice begins to suffer from increased periods of fogginess and confusion, putting considerable strain on both her personal life and professional career; daily routines like going for a jog, giving a lecture or preparing dinner soon become incredibly stressful experiences.
Whilst the narrative is unwaveringly focused on Alice’s perspective, we still see how her family cope with the situation in their very different, believable ways. There are some genuinely touching and tender moments between Alice and her husband John (Alec Baldwin) as they reminisce about their life together, but the film’s real emotional core comes from the relationship between Alice and her youngest daughter Lydia, played by Kirsten Stewart.
Much to her mother’s distain, Lydia is an aspiring actress still struggling to find her big break; her fellow siblings all have their clear career paths and Alice wants to make sure her daughter has a promising future ahead of her, whilst she’s still able to help her. They repeatedly come to loggerheads over Alice’s repeated insistence that Lydia should enrol in a college, something her daughter finds terribly unfair, to which she is told: “I don’t have to be fair, I’m your mother!”
Sadly though the members of Alice’s family they aren’t really given that much to do throughout the movie, particularly her older daughter Anna, played by Kate Bosworth. Early on her character is tested positive for having the same defective gene that causes this rare form of early Alzheimer’s, but this is never really explored as the story remains much more focused on the relationship between Alice and Lydia.
There’s an undeniable whiff of ‘Oscar Bait’ hanging around the film, the screenplay is littered with several ‘for your consideration moments’; particularly a sequence in which Alice addresses an Alzheimer’s support group and another where she gets lost looking for the bathroom, but it’s all shot in such a terribly unfussy, simplistic way that it just about gets away with.
Moore’s performance adds a real sense of depth and authenticity to proceeding; it’s not over-the-top, but surprisingly restrained and very physical. In many ways the actress has two roles to play throughout the movie, Alice before the onset of her condition and the completely different person she slowly becomes as her character is both physically and mentally ravaged by her condition.
It’s all the little things this film gets right that results in one big emotional pay off by the end and Moore’s Oscar-winning central performance is such a big part of that. Unlike Daniel Barnz’s feature Cake, which featured an equally impressive performance from Jennifer Aniston, this is a film that knows what’s it doing right from the get go and that’s why it’s such a rewarding and deeply moving viewing experience.
(Still Alice will be showing at the Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 6 March until Thursday 19 March)
Review by Jim McClean