D/W: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland. DP: Denis Lenoir. Starring: Julianne Moore/Alec Baldwin/Kristen Stewart/Kate Bosworth/Hunter Parrish/Shane McRae. (based on Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name)
Many a time a performance has stood out against the backdrop of a weaker film. Still Alice joins that group of films which arguably includes many an Oscar winning bunch. Indeed, what ultimately is spellbinding is the acting talents of Julianne Moore.
The co-directed and co-written film follows renowned Columbia University psychologist Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) who has just turned fifty and started to have moments of memory lapses. The film drops us into her experience right away and uses clever close ups of her communicating her symptoms to her doctor, who is kept off-screen for a short while. Alice eventually reveals her situation to her husband John (Alec Baldwin) and begins her early onset Alzheimer’s journey. This of course includes sharing this painful news with her three children.
Still Alice is somewhat faithful to its source novel by Lisa Genova, but misses a few important beats. In the novel Alice feels so isolated by her husband’s and co-workers reactions to the disease that she seeks out her own community. She creates a social group at her home for other early on-set Alzheimer’s patients. By removing this important plot line Alice is not given much agency in her care taking. Other plot points, like her visit to an Alzheimer’s home, feel marooned without a thread to film’s narrative. Also some parts of the script are glaringly weaker than others or appear disingenuous, which is never at fault in the novel which is memorably told in first person.
The film is thankfully able to root itself in Moore’s performance, specifically in her eyes. Moore is able to give Alice an intelligent transparency that thread lines throughout the film despite her character not being very established before things fall apart. One almost wanted more screen time from her despite the miscasting of Baldwin as her husband, does anyone buy him as a scientist? Kristen Stewart is decent as her youngest daughter Lydia, though she lacks the fire to match Moore. The film’s editing and pacing make some transitions slightly jarring and unfortunately it is simply a testament to Moore’s abilities that one is moved in the end. One cannot help see this film in tandem with Sarah Polley’s 2006 excellent film, Away From Her, based on an Alice Munro short story. Away From Her sees a childless couple go through the same harrowing experience and is the better film overall.
On a final side note, although completely dissimilar in content, Still Alice shares a birth plan with Fifty Shades of Grey. Genova self-published her novel in 2009 before it was picked up a few years later by publishers, like E.L. James. As trends continue in the publishing acquisitions realm it shall be fascinating to see what else is scooped up from writers still trying to get the attention of editors, let alone film producers.