Still Alice is an honest and refreshingly level-headed (read: non-manipulative) look at a horrible disease and the toll it takes not only on the diagnosed, but also friends and relatives. Nothing particularly new or revelatory happens, but its matter-of-fact approach coupled with a stellar cast saves it from the Lifetime Disease of the Week fare it would have turned into in less capable hands.
Julianne Moore stars as Alice Howland, an accomplished linguistics professor with a husband (Baldwin) and three grown kids (Stewart, Bosworth, and Parrish). During lectures she begins to forget words and lose her train of thought. While she initially believes it’s the standard forgetfulness that comes with aging, Alice sees a neurologist and gets devastating news: she has a rare, genetic form of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland keep the story grounded in cold, inevitable reality. No attempts are made to manufacture tears or overplay Alice’s plight. The resulting effect is one of realism and horror at how debilitating the disease is. The film even handles compounding tragedies with grace. It’s discovered that Alice’s form of Alzheimer’s carries a fifty percent chance of being present in her children, and if any of them have the gene they face a one hundred percent chance of getting the disease.
Julianne Moore turns in the work of her career as Alice. Sunny and bright as the film begins, her transformation to someone who can barely recall what was said minutes earlier is convincing and heartbreaking. She’s the beating heart of the film and carries it with humility and stunning attention to detail. Alec Baldwin is very effective as her husband, ranging from denial to acceptance with the expected bumps in the road. Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish all fare well, particularly Stewart as the artful daughter who’s the outcast of the three. Her last scene with Alice is just about perfect.
As films about people with devastating diseases go, Still Alice is understated, thought-provoking, and written and directed with a steady hand. The story arc is fairly predictable, but what’s between the lines is detailed and worthy of attention. Julianne Moore is absolutely fantastic and will likely be taking home a statue come Oscar night. Still Alice is a professional and respectful drama about what is quietly one of the most emotionally destructive conditions on the planet.
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Length: 101 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference.
Theatrical Release: December 5, 2014 (Limited) / February 13, 2015 (Wide)
Directed by: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Written by: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland. Based upon the novel by Lisa Genova.
Cast: Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Alec Baldwin, Hunter Parrish