In Review: Still Alice

by Daniel Goodwin on 23/02/2015


All film genres obviously have their great and lesser works, yet dramas about families managing illnesses can too easily be associated with insipid daytime TV offerings. Fortunately, Still Alice is not one of those films. This moving story about a woman’s struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s and the repercussions on her family is an affective portrayal that generates poignancy from its performances and serene visuals thanks to the magnificent editing by Nicholas Chaudeurge (Red Road (2006), Fish Tank (2009) and direction by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (The Fluffer (2001), Echo Park LA (2006)).

Julianne Moore delivers a staggering performance as Dr. Alice Howland: a distinguished Linguistics Professor and mother of three, diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s. Alice is told that the illness is genetic and after informing her husband (Alec Baldwin) and three children (Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae and Kristen Stewart), she begins to adapt in preparation for the dreaded decline.

Alice introduces new routines into her life in attempt to acclimatise to the effects of the symptoms while supporting character clashes underline the heartbreak at the story’s core, enriching the narrative with a welcome realism. Yet these issues never overshadow the central story, act as diverting subplots or cast the family members in a negative light. Their frustrations simply illustrate the complex nature and effects of what such an illness can have on a family. Inner conflicts, differences of opinion or frustration at the sacrifice required all contribute to making Still Alice a rich and rewarding experience.

The screenplay (based on the novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova) flows through scenes and sequences fluidly and never feels weighted down by the serious nature of its central subject. The cinematography, directing and performances accomplish an elusive fluidity along with the phenomenal, restrained and deeply moving [Academy award-winning] performance from Julianne Moore. There is such honesty in the screenplay, a screenplay which tries hard not to imply that Alzheimer’s is less of a tragedy for those less educated than it is for those like Alice whose life has been so connected to words and efficient thought process.

Alongside Moore’s electrifying onscreen presence, Alec Baldwin delivers solid support as her husband John: a professional who has to manage his job as well as take care of Alice. Kristen Stewart is also decent as the rebellious, ambitious daughter Lydia who wants to follow her dreams of becoming an actress instead of going to college, against her mother’s wishes. It is refreshingly candid to see a selfish side of Alice portrayed as she uses her illness in attempt to emotionally blackmail Lydia into enrolling. It’s within these smaller complex dramas that a greater context is provided and a fuller narrative evolves, ensuring Still Alice amounts to a mighty work about one person’s struggle and the unified strength of a family during times of hardship.

New Empress caught up with Julianne Moore just prior to her BAFTA win, wondering what the future holds for Moore post-Mockingjay, if there are any roles out there that she has a yearning to play. Her answer was amusing… ‘A secret Julie?! I never know…every time you get sent a script it’s like this exciting kind of secret because you don’t know when you read it what it’s gonna be. You might be like, oh wow.. this is the next thing i want to do, and you can kinda tell pretty quickly too. It really is a moment that’s…not to be corny…but can be kinda crackling with excitement. That’s why I like new material so much…I like the element of surprise. With Savage Grace, which is so, so dark, my daughter had just been born and I was on vacation, I read it and I was like ‘oh my god’ and I turned to my husband and said I think I have to do this! I emailed (producer) Christine Vachon who also worked on this film (Still Alice) and she said ‘I knew it, I knew this was for you!’ Whatever Julianne’s next move is, it is certain to be as challenging and heartfelt as the majority of her roles have been.

Daniel has awarded Still Alice four Torches of Truth

4 torches

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