Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

still alice_75Her portrait of Alice is humane and convincing, and Moore is one of the only actresses I can think of who can go from being a commanding presence in a classroom to a feeble, memory-deprived woman inside of the same film without hiding behind heavy aging makeup.

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On the surface it seems like Still Alice, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (the same team behind last year’s bomb The Last of Robin Hood), would be cheap Oscar bait, or a bad made-for-TV weepie, or somewhere in between. It focuses on an esteemed college professor, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore, looking like a sure bet to win Best Actress for this performance), who learns at the beginning of the film that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s. She tries to get her life in order, telling her family (early-onset Alzheimer’s is a genetic disorder, so any combination of her three grown kids might have it, too), gracefully bowing out of her job, maintaining her dignity, and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life considering she’s not going to recognize most aspects of it anymore. And while Still Alice does have some generic Oscar bait qualities, it’s at least a little above average. Those who go for this kind of thing will probably enjoy it, and those who hate manipulative films (and somehow accidentally wander into this) may not be too thrilled, but it won’t be all that painful of an experience, either.

A lot of this success rests on Moore’s shoulders, of course—there is a reason people are assuming she’s going to win an Oscar for her performance here. She’s long been regarded as one of the very best American actresses of her generation and has been nominated four times prior to this (two for lead, two for supporting), but has never won before. Her portrait of Alice is humane and convincing, and Moore is one of the only actresses I can think of who can go from being a commanding presence in a classroom to a feeble, memory-deprived woman inside of the same film without hiding behind heavy aging makeup.

Most of Still Alice deals with Alice’s relationships. The focal relationships being the one with her husband, John (Alec Baldwin, a little too Alec Baldwin-y here), who is loving but has bad instincts, and the other with her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart, good), who lives in L.A. as a struggling actress and has a checkered history with her mother compared to her two siblings. But really, the central part of Still Alice is Alice learning to deal with herself and her disorder.

It’s no mistake that the title Still Alice looks so much like “still alive” because it’s a big theme of the film—Alice may not be able to find her bathroom, get back home after a jog, or recognize her family, but she is still a human being with needs and feelings. | Pete Timmermann

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