Heartbreakingly beautiful Alice
In a sure sign of advancing maturity, the only “Shades of Grey” that interests this critic are those implied by the premature aging of a 50-year-old woman battling the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. “Still Alice” is a sad, even depressing view of the chronic disorder that features a beautiful, heartbreaking performance by Julianne Moore that deserves to earn her an Oscar later this week.
This is definitely a film you have to be in the mood to see. And the older you are, the more sensitive and receptive to the script’s somber material you will likely be.
Moore plays Alice Howland, a successful linguistics professor at Columbia University who begins to experience short-term memory loss and difficulty with words, even forgetting a favorite jogging path. She’s diagnosed with a rare familial form of Alzheimer’s that can be passed on through genetics, and can accelerate in those with higher intellect and increased brain activity. Her busy husband John—a solid Alec Baldwin, for once not a jerk—and her three adult children (Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish) must learn to cope with Alice’s increasing dysfunction amid their own occasionally icy relationships. The film actually downplays the impact of Alice’s struggles on the various family members, instead choosing to focus primarily on her painful decline.
Were it not for Moore’s superbly controlled performance the film might have come off as maudlin and predictable. But credit the filmmakers for trusting Moore’s instincts to give Alice a graceful balance between moments of powerful despair. Alice’s prickly relationship with her aspiring actress daughter (Stewart, who does fine work here) doesn’t resort to tidy resolution, but nonetheless provides some uplifting nuance. The film may have benefitted from more of that, but perhaps that’s the point.
Alzheimer’s is a disease of agonizing deterioration that has no cure, and “Still Alice,” led by its talented lead actress, isn’t content with pulling punches. It wants to gently but effectively rip out your heart. To that end, “Still Alice” succeeds powerfully.
Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material, and brief language, including a sexual reference).