By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The frightening proposition that is Alzheimer’s Disease is conveyed with admirable authenticity and clear-eyed compassion in the melancholy medical melodrama Still Alice.
Julianne Moore is Alice Howland, an accomplished linguistics professor at Columbia University, in New York City (she’s the well-known author of Neurons to Nouns) — who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease at age 50. And it’s her age that tells her that her incidents of forgetfulness are not merely what an older person could laugh off as “senior moments.”
The dreaded day will come, she now knows, when she will not know who she is nor who her loved ones are.
Worse, that the disease is hereditary focuses some of Alice’s many fears on the eventual fate of her adult children.
She lives with her supportive medical-researcher husband, played by Alec Baldwin, in a well-appointed apartment on the Upper West Side, and her three grown children, played by Kate Bosworth, Kristen Stewart, and Hunter Parrish. Their helplessness in the light of what they now know is both understandable and deeply affecting.
The script, by directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (The Last of Robin Hood, Quinceanera), based on the best-selling 2007 novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova, tells its story through the eyes of the afflicted character, who is completely aware of exactly what is happening to her. And because this makes the marvelous Moore the film’s key and ever-present ingredient, we’re in very good hands.
Co-director Glatzer, recently stricken with ALS, would seem to have brought his familiarity with similar obstacles and coping mechanisms to this labor-of-love project.
Moore, in an Oscar-nominated performance by the five-time nominee, calibrates and reveals her decline subtly but unmistakably as seemingly random acts of absentmindedness and disorientation eventuate into what constitutes a frightening, all-out raid on her memory and ultimately her identity by this devastating, degenerative disease.
As the luminous Moore details with consummate skill the struggle to endure the inevitable downward spiral and maintain dignity, she is complemented satisfyingly by Kristen Stewart, displaying more depth and nuance than we’ve ever seen from her as youngest daughter Lydia, a struggling actress who knows her mother disapproves of her career choice but who steps up from her vantage point as the most estranged member of the family and becomes her mother’s most depended-upon companion and caretaker.
Along with the companion piece Away From Her, the 2007 Sarah Polley film that starred Oscar-nominated Julie Christie as a woman stricken with Alzheimer’s, Still Alice shines a light on a subject that feels important and urgent, and offers itself appropriately and effectively as a Movie That Matters.
And while the film itself may divide audiences into admirers and detractors, it’s difficult to imagine anyone not being enormously moved by Moore’s dazzling work.
So we’ll try to recall 3 stars out of 4. Without resorting to sentimentality and with Moore being anything but less, the powerful Still Alice is both nightmarish and heartbreaking.