Review – Still Alice (12a) [2015]

Still Alice - titler banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Directors:

  • Richard Glatzer – Grief, The Fluffer, The Last of Robin Hood
  • Wash Westmoreland – The Fluffer, Totally Gay!, The Last of Robin Hood

Cast:

  • Julianne Moore – Nine Months, Children of Men, The Kids Are Alright, Seventh Son
  • Alec Baldwin – Pearl Harbour, The Aviator, Blue Jasmine, Mission: Impossible V
  • Kristen Stewart – Jumper, Twilight I-V, Snow White and The Huntsman, Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Kate Bosworth – Remember The Titans, 21, Straw Dogs, Before I Wake
  • Shane McRae – All Over Again, Killer Pad, The Help, Stereotypically You
  • Hunter Parrish – Steal Me, Freedom Writers, It’s Complicated, Hell Of A View
  • Stephen Kunken – The Girl In The Park, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Wolf of Wall Street, Bridge Of Spies

Music Composer:

  • Ilan Eshkeri – Layer Cake, Kick-Ass, Coriolanus, Black Sea, Don Verdean

Some films have scenes that are genuinely heart-breaking. When Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) hangs himself in The Shawkshank Redemption, when Oscar Schindler breaks down in Schindler’s List, and when Simba tries to awaken his fallen father in The Lion King, viewers cannot help but weep at the poignancy of the scenes. Yet, these are only particular scenes that last so long. Still Alice, on the other hand, makes one feel like weeping for pretty much the movie’s entire run time as it is so heart-breaking.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing  her students at the start of the film.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing her students at the start of the film.

Still Alice is based on the book with the same title by Lisa Genova. The movie revolves round Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a phenomenally intelligent and knowledgeable linguistics professor at Columbia University. She is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin), and between them they have three children: Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). They live in a nice house in a good suburb in New York and they have a summer beach house too. Then, at the age of fifty, Alice is diagnosed with Early On-set Alzheimer’s Disease and her world rapidly falls apart.

Still Alice has a simple plot that is expressed exceptionally well. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have uniquely concentrated (with the exception of one scene) on how the disease affects the victim from the victim’s point of view. To illustrate the moments when the Alzheimer’s is hitting Alice, the world around her fades into fuzziness and she forgets where she is and who she is talking to. This makes for painful viewing as Alice was once an intelligent woman. And the pain viewers feel is enhanced by the superb dialogue that explains what Alice is going through in her (failing) mind. More often than not, the dialogue is so painful, one cries as hard as one did in The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List and The Lion King. Indeed, somehow, every time the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ is mentioned, it feels like a blow to the heart, and the blows hurt even more when we learn that the disease is hereditary.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Undoubtedly, the key to why Still Alice hurts so much is because of Julianne Moore as the titular Alice. Moore has a rare, graceful beauty which works in her favour in, arguably, the performance of her career. (And that is saying something coming from her extraordinary portfolio). Suffice to say, Moore is fully deserving of her triumphs at the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the Screen Writer’s Guild Awards, and the Oscars because she stunningly encapsulates the problems facing a person with Alzheimer’s. Anyone who has seen a relative, friend or family friend suffer from Alzheimer’s (or Dementia or Parkinson’s) knows what is coming for Moore’s character, and one watches with horror as the disease rapidly robs Alice of her memory, her intelligence, her grace and her dignity. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene wherein one can see the contrast between Alice’s/Moore’s graceful appearance at the beginning of the movie and her appearance toward the end of it. Again, it makes for painful viewing and highlights why Moore was the perfect person for the role.

The rest of the cast take on a supporting role (quite literally) throughout the film. Of all the supporting cast, Kristen Stewart is given the most screen-time and exposition. It is easy to sneer at Stewart due to her numerous Golden Raspberry nominations and victories, her terrible acting in the Twilight Saga and Snow White and The Huntsman, and her affair with Rupert Sanders whilst dating Robert Pattinson (and on top of that she plays a failing actress in Still Alice). Nevertheless, Stewart actually plays her role in Still Alice really well and with enough subtlety and nuance to hint that critics may not always have a field day with her in the future.

Stewart might be the most noteworthy member of the supporting cast, but she is not the only one to play with subtlety and nuance. Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish all play their parts with equal skill too, to portray the Howlands as a normal, (dys)functioning family. Their character’s, like Stewart’s, may not have anything of note to say, and nor do they add much to the story. But this is not a problem because Still Alice is about how the disease impacts upon Alice, and not how it impacts upon her family.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer's.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer’s.

No, the movie’s biggest problem is its ending. The final scene just ends anti-climactically, as if Glatzer and Westmoreland ran out of ideas and decided enough was enough. (One hopes that that was not the case, but it feels like it.) Another issue, perhaps, is that the film’s music is unmemorable and that it has been heard before in other films. However, these are relatively small matters, and backhandedly highlight the brilliance of Still Alice.

Over-all, Still Alice is a poignant film that makes for heart-breaking and teary viewing. Due to the acting and the dialogue, the movie superbly demonstrates and elucidates upon how a person with Alzheimer’s Disease sees the world. Central to the film, is Julianne Moore’s incredible performance as the eponymous Alice as it enables viewers to feel the pain that a victim of the disease goes through. In turn, this leaves viewers devastated long after Still Alice concludes.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s