Julianne Moore is the favourite to win Actress in a Leading Role at the upcoming Academy Awards for her performance as Alice Howland in Still Alice,and after seeing the film I understand why. Anchored by her incredible performance, this is a powerful film about family, memory and self.
Still Alice opens with Alice Howland’s 50th birthday celebrations. She’s surrounded by family, happy and enjoying life. Everything seems perfect, but it’s not long before we see the signs. They’re only little things, a forgotten word here, a name there; but added together, they’re not so little. Alice is convinced she must have a brain tumour, but tests reveal she has Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Family are told, lives are altered and Alice steadily loses parts of herself to the insidious disease.
Losing one’s memories and therefore parts of one’s identity must be an incredibly scary and bewildering experience. Like silk slipping through your fingers, or an item hanging just out of reach, words, names and faces are unable to be grasped. Alice’s progression in this film from small lapses, to major breakdowns, is heart-breaking to watch. The good days are more broken up and she is increasingly unable to take care of herself for any period of time. The neurological illness slowly and steadily takes a physical toll and Alice looks all the more vulnerable.
What I liked about this film was how it showed the impact on her family and the individual members’ relationships with her. From disbelief, to fear and then learning to live with it, the dynamics between them shifted. Most interesting was the change in the relationship between Alice and her youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Lydia was the rebellious child who followed her passion of theater, rather than going to college. There was a lot of tension between them; Alice thought she was selling herself short by not going to college, Lydia couldn’t get through to her that she was happy doing things her way. When things got rough, it was Lydia that spent the time with her, Lydia who forgave her, Lydia who was the rock that she needed. It really was quite a beautiful evolution.
Julianne Moore is immensely talented and she deserves all the accolades coming her way for this performance. It’s not as simple as playing “forgetful”, there’s a real subtlety in how she shows the progression of the disease. The way she moves her mouth, the change in her posture, the lost look in her eyes – these things change throughout the film and are never overdone. Kristen Stewart delivers a fantastic supporting performance – I’m starting to think it is these quiet, solid supporting roles which she is best-suited to excel in. I also appreciated the charismatic Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband.
Still Alice suffers s few missteps, the music in particular is overbearing and problematic in the early stages of the film. There are also a few shifts in time which are clunky and don’t flow very well, but perhaps this is deliberate? In terms of casting and performance my only issue is with Kate Bosworth, who seems a little too cold as Alice’s eldest daughter.
This film is certainly more than one great performance. It’s a poignant reminder to live life to the full, surround yourself with good people and appreciate the little things.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Writer(s): Lisa Genova (novel), Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland (screenplay)
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth
Runtime: 101 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: January 29 2015