Still Alice

I wish they’d stop making these things.
Playing characters with handicaps has always been a near sure fire way to get an Academy Award nomination and lately it seems the handicap of choice is dementia. Now I don’t begrudge Julianne Moore the Oscar that she is undoubtedly going to win one week from tonight. Her body of work is one of the most impressive in film history and she probably should have won one long before now. But like I said in my review of Amour I went through this with my mother and I really don’t like watching movies about it. Unfortunately, I can’t ignore a Best Actress nomination, and so here we go.
Alice Howland is a celebrated linguistics professor who has a loving husband and grown children. Hers is an almost ideal life. That is until she starts to forget words. After a while it becomes obvious that something is wrong. She goes to a neurologist, at first without telling her husband John, played by Alec Baldwin, and is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
This is not a happy tale, nor is it a medical drama, where they are racing to find a cure. There is no cure. Despite what we are told in creative writing classes and books it is possible to make these kinds of plots work. But unfortunately, the filmmakers fail at this. This is mainly because they chose Alice to be the viewpoint character. At the beginning this is fine, because Julianne Moore captures the terror of someone gradually realizing that something is horribly wrong. This is mixed in with the guilt that comes with the realization that her form of Alzheimer’s is genetic and that she has passed it on to at least one of her children. Her struggle to remain independent, using her smart phone as a peripheral brain and other strategies is heroic.
But as the disease progresses and Alice’s perceptions of the world get more disjointed, the plot falls apart. We see John separating himself from the situation, taking a job in Minnesota, but we don’t feel it, because Alice can’t feel it. At this point her life becomes a sort of montage, snippets of scenes that don’t leave any trace on her because she won’t remember them.
The other performances are fine. Alec Baldwin turns in his usual good job. Kristen Stewart is good as Lydia, the youngest daughter who wants to be an actress. Kate Bosworth is the oldest daughter and the one who knows that she has the gene. She’s good when she’s in the film but really isn’t in it enough.
So what we’re left with here is a transcendent performance wrapped in a mediocre film. Which is actually fine by me. I’m not sure I could handle a great film on this subject.


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February 2015
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