When we meet the heroine of “Still Alice” at first, she looks satisfied with her life which has been fairly good to her. She is an academic researcher on the top of her field, and she has a husband who loves and understands her while also being a prominent researcher in his field, and she is also very happy to see their three children growing up pretty well and starting each own life. She and her family are all happy and joyous as celebrating her another birthday at a fancy restaurant in New York, and they wish all will be well for her in next years to follow.
But then Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) begins to notice small but disconcerting aberrations in her daily life. In the middle of her presentation at a conference held in LA, she stumbles when a word does not come immediately into her mind, and then she gets lost and confused during her routine afternoon jogging even though she is in the middle of the Columbia University where she has worked as a linguistic professor/researcher for years.
Disturbed by such baffling experiences, she goes to her doctor, and then she receives a very bad news. Although she is only around 50, all of her symptoms clearly suggest a very rare case of Alzheimer’s disease, and she and her husband Dr. John Howland (Alec Baldwin) are naturally shocked when the worst possibility comes true after several medical tests. They consider keeping this fact to themselves for a while, but they eventually decide to tell it to their children because such a rare case like Alice’s is caused by a genetic mutation which some of their children may inherit from her.
Alice and John try to live with the ongoing progress of her disease, but, not so surprisingly, they gradually face more of its sad, devastating effects on her. Alice becomes more frequently confused about many things including their daily schedule and her college lecture, and then there comes a point when she faces an undeniable fact that she is no longer brilliant as before in her work. She faces more difficulties in remembering words, and that comes to us as quite a sad irony considering her respected expertise on languages.
While this is basically a ‘disease of the week’ movie, “Still Alice”, which is based on Lisa Genova’s novel, is sincere and honest in the sensitive handling of its subject, and the directors/screenplay writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland do not let their story become too sappy and sentimental even while their heroine’s circumstance inevitably becomes more melodramatic along the irreversible progress of her disease. One scene involved with Alice’s private video message to herself, particularly feels contrived in its execution, but that is just a few missteps in the story, and Westmoreland and Glatzer bring out real feelings as focusing on Alice and the state of her fading mind with care and respect (In fact, Glatzer has suffered from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in real life, and he worked on the set as communicating with others mainly through iPad).
And Julianne Moore, who will soon be Oscar-nominated for this film as the front runner of this award season, gives another good performance which reminds us again of why she is one of the best American actresses at present. Regardless of whether her movies are good or bad, she has always been capable of giving something to watch and appreciate, and her solid performance in “Still Alice” elevates a bit what could have been no more than a passable melodrama film. While Alice is a typical movie character with terminal illness, she is presented a as real character with humanity and dignity through Moore’s thoughtful attention to her character, and Moore is also effective in the depiction of her character’s physical deterioration and the resulting personal pain and fear. Alice hopes that things will not get worse for her than predicted, but then she is reminded again and again of her worsening condition, and we occasionally see her mind wandering away from herself and her concerned family.
At least, there are sometimes good days when her mind is more functional than usual. Although it becomes harder to write for her, Alice manages to give a heartfelt speech for the Alzheimer’s disease foundation, and she has also more meaningful moments with her children. It goes without saying that her speech scene is a classic Oscar moment, but Moore delivers it with grace and class, and, as a South Korean critic once said, any Oscar season performance deserves to be praised if it is done well.
The movie is essentially Moore’s show, and the other performers in the movie ably support Moore as modestly standing by her performance. While Alec Baldwin is appropriately subdued as a husband who also faces his own difficulty as trying to support his wife, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, Hunter Parish, and Kristen Stewart appear as the rest of Alice’s family members, and Stewart, who has been on the steady recovery from the Twilight series, has a couple of good scenes with Moore as an actress daughter who is not exactly on good terms with her mother despite their mutual endearment.
In my mind, “Still Alice” was instantly compared to other notable drama films associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and I must say it is less powerful than Sarah Polley’s gracefully insightful film “Away from Her” (2006) or that haunting Japanese film “Memories of Tomorrow” (2006), which was also about a tragically early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Like “Iris” (2001), “Still Alice” is a plain Alzheimer’s disease melodrama which happens to be supported by good performances, and it feels a little too unremarkable despite its earnest intentions, but you may give it a chance just for Julianne Moore’s admirable job in this film.