Still Alice: Review

Adapted from Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel of the same name, Still Alice stars Julianne Moore at her all time best, in this heartbreaking tale of Alzheimers and the devastating effect it can have on a family. Moore plays the titular Alice, a professor of linguistics at Columbia university, who has started to have lapses of memory, losing track of her words whilst mid-sentence, and even getting lost whilst out jogging at the campus she sees almost everyday. She’s diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis that is doubly painful in that she genetically inherited from her alcoholic father, and could very well have passed it on to her children. What makes matters even worse, is that Alice has spent her whole life building a career around her ability to speak, her communication skills, and her intelligence, traits that have defined her as a person. As the disease develops and begins to take a hold of Alice, the film explores what it is that defines us as people, as well as how it might feel to lose your memory, and effectively yourself.

What could have potentially been a masterclass in melodramatic saccharine, Still Alice is incredibly humanistic, believable, and touching on the deepest of levels. Not only does it capture the brutal and tragic nature of Alzheimers on a symptomatic level, harrowingly conveying the confusion and almost childlike regression that can come with it, but it actually goes much further in depicting how illness in general can touch so many people’s lives. In this respect, Still Alice should resonate with almost anybody who has had to watch a family member suffer with any kind of disease in their lifetime, mainly through the relatable and well drawn characters that live in the film. Just as much as the story is about Alice and her struggle, it’s also about how her family deal with the situation, whether that be by facing it head on, ignoring it completely, or running away from it altogether. There’s no judgement in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s screenplay though, just three dimensional people who react in different, but understandable ways to the life-changing news. 

Westmoreland and Glatzer, who directed, as well as wrote the screenplay for Still Alice, manage to create a visceral sense of reality in the film. They portray the heartbreak, but there are moments of humour too, that capture a beautiful sense of bittersweet humanity in the film. Perhaps it’s the fact that Glatzer himself is living with ASL (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, that gives Still Alice its understanding and tenderness, that feels devoid of any generic sentimentally. There’s certainly a sense that this is the case, with a recurring theme of technology being used as a way of dealing with illness; something Glatzer must rely on to communicate with people since losing the use of his speech. 

Whilst the writing is integral to the success of Still Alice, the biggest talking point of the picture is Julianne Moore, who picked up best actress at both the oscars and BAFTAS this year, for her role as Alice. A truly worthy winner, Moore is phenomenal, putting in a performance that flits effortlessly from an internal, to external dialouge. She manages to speak volumes without saying a word, through the subtedlty of her expressions and movements, with the camera often lingering on just her. There’s a subtle sense of physical transformation that occurs through the film too, aided through the cinematography by Denis Lenoir, that makes Moore’s performance all the more believable. Further than ther though, Moore gives off a sense that she respects and understands how important this role is to get right too, drawing off of the accounts of actual Alzhemier sufferers, with poweful and moving effect.

It’s easy in instances like this though, to forget about the supporting cast. Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth, are each fantastic in their roles, however big or small they may be. With such strong performances across the board, especially from a career-best Moore, Still Alice is essential viewing on this basis alone. It’s much more than the performances though; a thoughtful and personal portrayal of life, illness, family and love. It’s often gut-wrenching to watch and it did make me cry, or well up a number of times. Whilst it may prove tough for anybody who has gone through something similar, there’s still enough care and awareness that has gone into making the film, which makes Still Alice a somewhat therapeutic experience. It’s a beautiful and poetic film that shouldn’t be missed. 

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