JULIANNE Moore is without doubt one of the finest actresses of her generation and her performance in Still Alice, the film that recently won her a deserved Best Actress Academy Award, only serves to clarify that view.
Moore plays Alice Howland, a respected professor of linguistics who at the start of the film is seen performing her day-to-day lecturing duties. All is going well until a hesitation occurs.
Seemingly unable to remember a key word, this is something that could be attributed to typical forgetfulness. Following uncomfortable sequences in which she gets lost during a jogging exercise and being unable to remember a familiar recipe without reading the instructions, it seems these are not just simple cases of amnesia.
Subsequent appointments ultimately lead her to being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. What follows is the harrowing decline as the disease slowly takes control of Alice’s life, rendering her from being a loquacious wife and mother to someone barely able to remember things spoken seconds earlier and easily get words out.
The first signs that Moore’s performance scream out Oscar are shown when Alice wakes her husband (Alec Baldwin) in the middle of the night to inform him of her condition. Her use of varying emotions such as anger, fright and eventual distress in this harrowing sequence alone places this work alongside Short Cuts, Boogie Nights and Far from Heaven amongst others as argument for Moore’s talent.
The key point of the film is Alice performing a speech at an Alzheimer’s Association where the rhythm of which she was speaking at a dinner party early in the film is clearly contrasted. Not since the conclusion of The King’s Speech though has an audience felt the need to root for the dictation of a speech to be completed successfully, in spite of the adversity faced by the speaker.
Still Alice, however, is not a good film overall and a sense of the film being too obvious is key to this belief. As seen in Michael Haneke’s far superior Amour, the decline of the main character is juxtaposed with the long-lasting struggles of close family members.
Baldwin does a good job as the husband struggling to fit work with his career but the film pays too much attention to that of Alice’s children, specifically Lydia (Kristen Stewart).
By focusing on characters whose scenes come across as uninteresting when compared to those of Moore’s, the film loses track too often. It is common for the film to include one scene that is engaging to watch but then feature several scenes that lack fascination and enough integrity.
Some scenes play as not essential to the plot, some as too long and some as circling around the realms of cliche to the point that the film needs more than just Moore’s acting to balance the books.
Still Alice might not be an exemplary film in terms of storytelling but is worth watching for Julianne Moore’s moving and extraordinary portrayal of a life ripped apart by Alzheimer’s disease.