Still Alice

Directed By: Richard Glatzer

Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish

I'm baaack!  I am slowly but surely resuming my normal activities and getting back to my beloved big screen.  As I've returned, one obvious reality finally smacked me in the face about this awards season.  It's a very dark one in which films like Birdman and Whiplash have been integral players.  Yes, there is the coming-of-age awards mammoth Boyhood, which is on the lighter side.  On the whole though, it's a rather depressing slate of films.  That's why it should come as no surprise that STMR is wrapping up its Oscar run with two more depressing films — Two Days, One Night and Still Alice.  With early onset Alzheimer's disease at the front and center of it, movies don't get much more depressing than the latter film.  At the same time, however, they rarely feature performances quite as beautiful.

Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a world-renowned linguistics professor with tenure at Columbia University.  For years, she's been in a loving marriage with her equally successful husband John (Alec Baldwin).  She even has three loving children in Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish), and Lydia (Kristen Stewart).  Lately, Alice has been noticing that she's having trouble remembering things.  After getting lost while routinely jogging around New York City, Alice goes to see neurologist Dr. Benjamin (Stephen Kunken).  After completing some tests, her world comes crashing down when the good doctor has the tragic duty of informing her that she has a familial form of early onset Alzheimer's disease.  With this personal crisis looming, Alice's life as she knows it is over.

Still Alice is a raw, bare bones film that hinges on the performances of its stars, and they all deliver the goods.  In the lead role, we have veteran actress Julianne Moore.  She's rarely been better on screen than her terrific, nuanced performance here as Alice Howland.  Her performance has two aims at its core, to portray how Alzheimer's disease ravages one's mind and robs an individual of his or her personhood and also to demonstrate the mental and emotional anguish this loss of little pieces of oneself takes on a person over time.  From the standpoint of the disease itself, Moore's performance is a nuanced game of fractions.  With each precious memory robbed of her character Alice, Moore increasingly becomes less and less the accomplished linguist from the start of the film and more and more a vegetable.  Though this disease ravages her character's mind, there's still always some semblance or fraction of Alice there.  Some part of Moore's performance is still Alice.

The other aspect of Moore's performance is capturing the complex emotional toll this disease takes on her as a wife, as a mother, and as a successful professional at the height of her career.  There are her character's subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to combat her mental deterioration to maintain her way of life.  There's a mountain of concern about this disease being passed onto her children.  There's the unwarranted but inescapable stigma of shame from her character's perpetual helplessness and confusion.  The toll this disease takes on her character is clearly quite heavy.  Impressively, Moore incorporates all these nuances and takes her performance as this struggling woman to the next level.  In this emotionally intricate turn on the big screen as this fragile butterfly, thespian Julianne Moore does indeed master the art of losing.

The supporting performances are just as important as the cast members portraying Alice's family are emblematic of the variety of responses there can be in a moment of personal crisis like this.  Fresh from Blue Jasmine and potentially starting a tradition of starring opposite best actress Oscar winners, Alec Baldwin is a loving but distant husband who buries himself in his work rather enjoying what are his final days with his wife as he knows her.  For her part as aspiring actress Lydia, Kristen Stewart is a loving daughter who emotionally connects with her mother and manages to humanize Alice.  As Alice's more accomplished daughter Anna, Kate Bosworth is one cold fish focused on the most practical future for the family.  Lastly, we have Hunter Parrish as Tom, who offers a performance similar in tone to Bosworth but with somewhat more empathy.

While I've focused on the performances from the actors themselves, director Richard Glatzer amplifies these performances with stylistic flourishes such as a melancholic score and bright cinematography.  This contribution to Still Alice does not go unnoticed and certainly helps to elevate it to the outstanding piece of cinema that it is.  A thought-provoking drama that may be personal to many viewers, Still Alice gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.