Fifty-year old Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a Columbia professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife and mother of three grown up children is diagnosed with early-onset dementia. She becomes lost, a feeling that grows for her and those around her as time progresses.
Review by Louise Keller:
I feel as though my brain is dying, Alice (Julianne Moore) sobs in the middle of the night, to her husband John (Alec Baldwin), as words, names and her sense of being are lost in greater and greater frequency. It is impossible not to be affected by this devastatingly sad portrait of a woman, whose reliance on memory and its compilation to communicate in her role as professor of linguistics at Columbia University, accentuates the intensity of her loss. While the tragedy of Alzheimer's is undeniable in all circumstances, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's adaptation of Lisa Genova's novel feels intensely personal, with its integral focus on the perspective of the central character, whose life is slowly submerging into murky confusion.
In a superb and contained performance, Julianne Moore's transformation from vibrant, intelligent career woman, wife and mother to that of a woman who is lost and cannot find herself, is transfixing. The film begins with Alice's 50th birthday celebrations with her husband and children. Her visit to a neurologist to whom she confides her increasing forgetfulness is kept secret until it seems her diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer's is inevitable. 'Whatever happens, I'm here,' her husband John tells her. In the scene in which Alice and John tell their children, we can feel their discomfort. Not only is this terrible life sentence being revealed, but there's an added cruel twist: the rare condition has genetic implications that could affect their children.
We can relate to Alice's thought process as she records a video message for herself on her laptop, clearly indicating her final wishes when the time comes and she can no longer answer the list of simple questions on her phone that measure her cognitive functions. The scene when she discovers the video - in the folder titled 'Butterfly' - is one of the film's most confronting. Also heartbreaking is the moment in the ice-cream parlour when John (Baldwin is terrific in the role) pointedly asks his wife if she wants to be there. The fact that her reply relates to the unfinished ice-cream alerts us to the fact that the time for insight has passed.
Kristen Stewart is especially good as Lydia, the aspiring actress who doesn't want a backup plan and whose communication with Alice goes through many phases. As Anna, the daughter who wants to have a baby, Kate Bosworth is also effective. The dynamics between the family members are well portrayed, from petty bickering to unswerving love. John's devastation as the powerless husband who cannot bear to watch the woman he loves deteriorate, is nicely underplayed by Baldwin. There are many moments that resonate, including the scene when Alice delivers a speech at the Alzheimer's Association in which she describes the changing perceptions - from her own to those of the people around her. We are able to put ourselves in her place when she suggests she should not beat herself up too much as she unwillingly masters the art of losing - her memory and herself.
The film is undoubtedly a work of passion for Westmoreland and Glatzer, with Glatzer having been diagnosed with ALS (a degenerative disease similar to that of motor neurone) during the shooting of the film.
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STILL ALICE (M)
CAST: Kristen Stewart, Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth, Alec Baldwin
PRODUCER: James Brown, Pamela Koffler, Lex Lutzus
DIRECTOR: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
SCRIPT: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland (novel by Lisa Genova)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Denis Lenoir
EDITOR: Nicolas Chaudeurge
MUSIC: Ilan Eshkeri
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tamaso Ortino
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 29, 2015 (special advance screenings Jan 23, 24, 25, 2015)