Stars: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
It was no surprise to most that Julianne Moore collected the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer's at age 50. Alice begins to forget words--especially disturbing to someone in her position. She gets lost while out jogging in familiar places. This is how it begins.
There is no cure for this insidious disease, and you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy. So how it ends is not pretty. But we go on this journey with Alice because it's not just a tale of an individual and her slow deterioration, it's a story about family dynamics and how deeply they can be affected.
Alice is married to a medical professional (Alec Baldwin) and has three grown children. When a family conference is called to break the news of her diagnosis, the kids have no clue, and at first ask their parents if they are breaking up. They are blindsided. To make the scene even more cringe-worthy, Alice has to inform them that her particular brand of the disease is familial, meaning there's a fifty-fifty chance it could be passed on to the kids--one of whom is about to drop twins upon the world!
There is a chilling scene where Alice, in the early stages of her condition, records a video message to her future self, with instructions on what to do when things get to a certain stage. Will she or won't she follow through becomes the only real story question in Still Alice--which, like the disease itself, proceeds to its foregone and inevitable conclusion.
One of the other good performances here is turned in by Kristen Stewart, as Alice's aspiring actress daughter, who makes the decision to detour from her career and step up to become her mother's primary caregiver.
Alec Baldwin gives a toned-down turn as the husband who is trying to do the right thing at every turn. There is one scene where he begins to get a little cranky, and I'm sitting there saying THERE...there's the REAL Alec Baldwin!
I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you up front that Still Alice is a depressing movie. But no less than a must-see. Because it's one that will make you think.
Think about living every moment to the fullest.
Grade: B +
I haven't been this disturbed by a movie since Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. Still Alice doesn't pretty up this awful disease one bit. And Julianne Moore doesn't pretty herself up, either. It is a searingly honest portrayal. One that is, at times, difficult to watch. As she deteriorates, so do we. I especially winced when her character was unable to find the bathroom in her own home, one she had lived in for years. As someone who prides herself on using just the right word or phrase, this film really got to me. And since I'm of an age where healthy forgetfulness happens all too frequently, the idea of losing total use of my brain is frankly terrifying.
That being said, Still Alice is a masterful piece of filmwork. Directors Brian Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (yes, two directors) played with our eyes as well as our minds by fading in and out of focus at unexpected intervals. Sort of like the way Julianne Moore's character was lucid one moment and in a fog the next.
This is not a movie for the faint of heart. The day Tim and I went to see it, there were mostly seniors in the audience. It got me wondering if its effect on a younger audience would be as life-threatening. Probably not. The list of celebrities who have suffered from this cruel disease is frightening. Ronald Reagan is probably the most famous victim. But there are others from the film community whose brilliance slowly faded into nothingness: Otto Preminger, Dana Andrews, Charles Bronson, Arlene Francis, Mike Frankovic, Rita Hayworth, Charleton Heston, Burgess Meredith, Edmond O'Brien, too many to name...
For a sobering experience, go see Still Alice.