Still Alice

★★★½
Julianne Moore has never been better.
Movie Review #1,008

still_alice

The Weinstein Company
Drama
1 hour, 41 minutes
Rated PG-13 (mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference)
Released February 20, 2015
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Screenplay by Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
From the novel by Lisa Genova
Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, and Hunter Parrish

“Still Alice” is a wreckingly emotional film. We start at Alice’s fiftieth birthday, and we end at what is virtually her death. The final scene comes as sudden but meaningful. She, a former linguistics professor, fascinated by the English language, has lost to Alzheimer’s. After hearing her youngest daughter read to her an excerpt from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, she wants to say something on it, but can only communicate through meaningless sounds.

In a nutshell, the film chronicles a linguistics professor who is stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s. It’s difficult not to have even a modicum of skepticism; the decision to make this woman a linguistics professor definitely feels calculated. However, forget that entirely, because Julianne Moore’s performance speaks beyond her character’s defining irony. Moore transcends any notion that she might be performing a role in a movie. Her transformation into Alice is horrifyingly real. No doubt, this is also the result of other factors, as well. The cinematography can at times trap us in the mind of the subject, as can the visceral writing. But it’s truly Julianne Moor who brings that sense of psychological entrapment to the next level.

Alice is only one of three dynamic characters in “Still Alice”, and in fact, there is a rather poignant role reversal between the other two: her husband and her youngest daughter Lydia. Her husband starts of seeming to maintain a steady balance of work and family. That changes once Alice begins to develop Alzheimer’s. It’s too much for him to handle, and he feels that they should relocate for business purposes, despite the instability this will cause for Alice. It’s tragic watching her fight to compromise with her husband over this, at a time when she absolutely needs his patience and understanding. Meanwhile, Lydia has decided to take time off from her thespian career out in California, so that she can take care of Alice in New York City. The development of her character into something she’d never become, is impeccable.

These two performances are anchored mightily by Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart, respectively. By the end of the movie, they’ve become a much more believable family unit (along with Alice’s older children, played by Hunter Parrish and Kate Bosworth) than whence they started. “Still Alice” may have its flaws. They’re minor, though, and they hardly detract from the excellence of the overall film.

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