*** (out of five)
Julianne Moore is nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress for Still Alice, from screenwriting and directing partners Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. She plays Alice Howland, an extremely intelligent, beautiful and successful linguistics professor, who, upon turning 50, becomes afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film is tasteful, controlled, quiet, almost stately; it’s beautifully shot in New York mainly in autumn and winter, features precise characters and perfect performances, particularly from Moore, who should and will get the Oscar. It is also a slog, hampered by two script-level fundamental flaws.
The first is that, playing its schematic early, the film becomes a sort of inevitable death march. Once Alice’s disease is discovered, we anticipate – not with pleasure – that the rest of the running time will essentially be a series of worse and worse symptoms on display, and that is precisely what we get. Although Moore performs each stage of Alice’s degradation exquisitely, it is not only an extremely depressing ride but a predictable one.
The other challenge is the film’s almost high-concept conceit: having Moore as a world authority on linguistics, and the disease gradually robbing her of words, is simply very, very contrived, and the concept is hammered to death. It’s too neat and it becomes grating.
Alice’s family are beautiful, smart and wonderful like her, and if they weren’t played by such excellent actors they would be insufferable. But Alec Baldwin, Kristin Stewart, Hunter Parrish (what a great actor’s name!) and particularly Kate Bosworth bring them all to life with precision. The Howlands are of a particular New York academic upper class, and they’ve got rigid spines, stiff upper lips and emotional resilience. This, at least, stops the movie from being mawkish – there are no scenes of anyone losing it, screaming, weeping uncontrollably or generally getting all tragic with it. But there is no denying that the film is depressing from the outset and never lightens up. While a fine showcase of a great screen actor’s talents, and an admirable depiction of an all-too-common disease, it is a grind, and one wonders if the filmmakers had an audience in mind.