Still Alice – Julianne Moore swims skillfully through an ocean of tears. (Film Review)
Ok, so the first thing to say is that Julianne Moore is amazing in Still Alice and even though she deserved The Award for so many other films, it will certainly help me sleep just that little better at night knowing she finally has ‘One’, and unlike Susan Sarandon that should have had one forever, particularly Lorenzo’s Oil and then got it for being a nun (ugh) Julianne Moore is the full and total screen subject of Still Alice and she does do everything right with the opportunity, as we all know Julianne Moore would. So there is no disappointment here for the film lover who knows everything to go along and see someone so awesome in something that you can tell from the trailers is likely to be sort of dreadful. It isn’t as bad as it looks, and that is saying something. Kristen Stewart is also interestingly good, and does some kind of cool stuff with a role that has almost nothing to it.
However, Still Alice can’t escape its own horrible clichés despite the fact that there are some genuinely interesting things going on in the film. Part of what makes Moore’s performance so good is that she holds point of view for the bulk of the film, so we share an experience of the disease everyone dreads, including an incredible moment when she compares the societal acceptability of cancer to the social outcast that is the Alzheimer’s patient, and wishes she had the former rather than the latter. That’s only a partial spoiler, because that sort of insight peppers the film and gives it many strengths that Mooore has the chops to take full advantage of. Cleverly, the film isn’t really about Alzheimer’s, it’s about Alice, turning the Alzheimer patient into the human person – in other words, she is still Alice. Lisa Genova is a neuroscientist and writes books about sufferers of neurological disorders, Still Alice being her 2007 best-selling (originally self published) novel, so you can imagine how telling and poignant the insights from the sufferers point of view are.
Then, something went horribly wrong when Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland wrote the screenplay they directed, and primarily this has to do with the friends and loved ones standing around Alice having nothing to do other than watch in horror as the person they love disappears before them. There is a nasty additional twist in the type of Alzheimer’s Alice has, and despite the importance of this impact on the family it’s barely dealt with beyond the initial discovery.
The film tries not to make this error. Alec Bladwin plays John Howland, Alice’s husband who loves her and stands by her, but is effectively useless, Kate Bosworth is Anna Howland-Jones, Alice’s eldest daughter who plays a barely developed role trying to organise and manage the family (this is the role I would have expected a great deal more from) and Kristen Stewart plays Lydia Howland, the semi-estranged daughter who comes to love her mother and treasure every last moment, blah blah blah. It’s these characters, so poorly written that turn the film into the horrible TV drama/tear jerker it looks like from the trailers. Absolutely nothing happens except Alice’s deterioration, and the film isn’t quite brave enough to fully explore that to the deep lengths it can. It head hops too much into the family machinations without giving them anything to do but notice Alice losing things and re-introducing herself to friends, which are the most known and worst clichés about Alzheimer’s.
This might sound like a harsh criticism, because what can the familiy do other than watch it all take place and part of the power of Still Alice is that it keeps the camera on Julianne Moore, so her family are effectively down played to contribute to that focus. But leaving them there like that, when the film isn’t about them, meant all we saw was their glassy eyes, and sideways glances and it is this – not the Altzheimers patient – that turns the film into the cheapest form of miday movie heart tug.
Still Alice, for all that, did leave me crying at the end, only the most hardened heart wouldn’t be touched, but as I say so many times in these sorts of reviews, it was as much for the film that was lost than for the film I saw. So much could have been done with such an actress and such a book, but a safe and easy road was chosen, and I suppose The Nomination is proof that this was the right road to take. Julianne Moore will win. Not only is it the sort of film the American Awards get massive hard ons for, but she is actually terrific and deserves it. She manages, among all that mawkishness to bring the real fear that disease excites to the fore, and much of her performance is difficult to watch because of it. In the end it has become an actors film (despite the poor writing, all the performances are great) and a vehicle propelled by Oscar-bait but I guess if this is what it takes to get an actress like Moore recognised, then so be it.