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Movie Review of the Week – “Still Alice”

Movie Review of the Week – “Still Alice”
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By Alison Bailes

Do you want to see a movie about an insidious disease slowly and surely attacking the brain of a smart, successful linguistics professor? It’s a tough sell, but the answer is a resounding yes, because the woman is played by the supremely talented Julianne Moore who proves once and for all that she is the cream of the cream amongst her peers.

Moore, who picked up a Golden Globe award for her performance (and should be nominated for an Oscar) does not take a misstep in this independent feature from directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceanera”, “The Last of Robin Hood”). That Glatzer is suffering from ALS and communicated via an ipad operated by his toe on set adds behind the scenes poignancy to a nuanced portrayal of a degenerative disease.

Dr. Alice Howland (Moore) is a happily married, renowned professor at Columbia University. She has a successful and loving husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children. Her field of expertise is the acquisition of language, so it’s a particularly cruel shock when she starts to forget words. When she becomes disoriented whilst jogging in her neighborhood, she seeks out a doctor and discovers that she is suffering from early onset Alzheimers. Not only is this a death sentence for her, but it also means that in all likelihood, at least one of her children will carry the same gene. This knowledge causes her unbearable pain and guilt.

Alice’s children are played by Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart. Only Stewart’s Lydia emerges as a flesh and blood person (the other storylines are less developed) and her relationship with her mother becomes the central focus of the film. Stewart, in her best work, captures that fractious mother/daughter dynamic as Lydia goes from defensive youngest child, to a source of strength and comfort to her mother. It’s clear after watching this (and the recent, little seen “Camp X-ray”) that Stewart just needs good material and solid screen partners to bring out the best in her. The scenes between Stewart and Moore, in person or over Skype are powerfully emotional.

But this is Moore’s movie and she anchors it with full-on commitment and intensity. Would we expect anything less from the actress who can bring gravitas to an installment of “Hunger Games”, humor to episodes of “30 Rock” or aching depth to “Don Jon”…or any number of films on her resume?  As Alice fights valiantly to combat the stages of Alzheimers, Moore’s whole being changes from that of a confident woman, to a lost soul with fear and confusion behind her eyes.

It’s heartbreaking to watch. And even more so when Alice realizes that she will lose the wherewithal to take matters into her own hands once the disease really takes hold. Her efforts to maintain control of her future are understandable and it’s devastating when her plans fail.

Moore has been nominated for an Academy Award four times previously. She doesn’t choose her projects with an eye to box office success or award recognition and this has resulted in her deeply eclectic, extensive resume. For her it’s all about the work, the process. But it is time. She deserves this outward affirmation of her talent even if we’ve known it all along. Fifth time lucky.

 

 

 

 

 

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