Everybody’s a little forgetful. Especially my ex-girlfriend. I mean, it was my birthday for gosh sakes!
50-year-old Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty good life. She has a loving husband (Alec Baldwin), lives in a comfy home, teaches at Columbia, has three, grown-up kids that constantly stay in touch with her, and she seems to have it all figured out. However, that all changes one day when she begins to realize that she’s forgetting certain things. Not just any certain things, but things that she used to know or at least, should know. Though it’s only tiny pieces of forgotten knowledge, Alice still doesn’t take any chances and decides to go to the doctor to take a test. She gets the results a week later and finds out that she’s been diagnosed with a rare case early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She, as well as the rest of her family, is absolutely devastated. But they all soon realize that they have to take advantage of the time they have with their mother now, before it’s all too late and Alice has forgotten just about everything in her life.
It’s a shame that certain movies such as Still Alice, are generally regarded as “made-for-TV specials”, only because of their plot, or what it is that they decide to talk about. Usually, movies about people with certain dramatic, life-altering diseases, are thrown onto Lifetime to be seen by housewives from all over the globe, where they’ll go “ooh” and “ahh”, and think it is maybe the greatest piece of film they have ever seen. This assumption of mine may not be right, but for the most part, movies about diseases, usually get tossed to the TV-screens, so that the heavy-hitters can play where the big boys play, and that’s the cinema’s.
But with Still Alice, there’s finally an exception to the rule that proves it doesn’t matter what disease-of-the-week your movie seems to be discussing or highlighting, if it is good, then people will see it, regardless of what form they decide to do so. In this case though, it’s on the big screen, with noticeable, big-hitter names like “Julianne Moore”, “Alec Baldwin”, “Kristen Stewart”, and yes, even “Kate Bosworth”, and still seems like it could be played on TV.
The main reason of that has less to do with the material and more of just the way it’s cheaply-shot by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, but regardless, it’s still a movie that discusses a real life, actual disease and does so in an efficient, thought-provoking way. It hardly ever gets over-dramatic and it doesn’t really even seem to paint its main character, Alice, as any kind of miracle woman, that so tragically gets hit with this disease. Sure, it’s very sad and I wouldn’t wish this disease upon anyone (or any disease, for the record), but Alice, as portrayed in this movie, isn’t a wonderful lady. She’s a nice one, but she’s like you or I – she makes mistakes, she acts selfish and, especially when finding out about this disease of hers, starts to take advantage of the situation to get whatever it is that she wants, from whomever she wants.
This may give the impression that Alice is a terrible woman who nobody would ever want to see a whole movie dedicated to, let alone one including her struggle with getting past a life-changing disease such as Alzheimer’s, but the movie doesn’t try to push that off on us. She’s a normal, everyday woman that you’d meet on the street, but the sad reality of her life is that she has this disease and it’s making her life, as well as those around her, a living hell.
So yeah, it’s pretty sad material that we’re working with here, but Westmoreland and Glatzer don’t ever seem to let this go too far to where it’s downright depressing and preachy. They both show the problems one faces with Alzheimer’s, how they can try to overcome it, and/or what others can do to help that person who is currently struggling. They take their sweet time with this character and her disease, and it never seems “Hollywood-ized”, nor does it ever seem like it’s pandering to anyone, at any time.
Especially not when Westmoreland and Glatzer begin to discuss the darker layers of this story and what the disease can do to those afflicted with it. For instance, there’s a surprising amount of detail that goes into Alice’s plans for her suicide, when she’s going to do it, how she’s going to do it, and just whether or not she’ll even remember. Had this been shown strictly on television first, I can assure you, we probably wouldn’t have seen this aspect developed, or better yet, even brought up in the first place. But considering that this is a feature film, Westmoreland and Glatzer are given a hell of a lot more free reign to dig deep into the problems one person may definitely have if they’re ever diagnosed with this same problem.
It’s not only eye-opening to a dense idiot such as myself, but also helps us appreciate Alice, the character here, a whole lot more.
Because, see, like I said before about Alice and the way she’s written in this movie, she’s not perfect, but she’s real and that’s what matters the most. Some of this has to do with the way Alice is developed, but most of it is because of Julianne Moore and the way she searches long and hard to get to the center of this woman, and how it’s hard to ever take your eyes off of her. However, don’t be fooled by the marketing of this movie, this isn’t a very showy performance from Moore; it’s just a near-perfect showing of what she does best, when given the right material to do so with: Act her rump off.
A couple of weeks ago, in my Maps to the Stars review, I discussed how Moore, to me at least, felt like the type of actress who is usually solid in anything she does, but she’s hardly surprising. She’s always good, but when was the last time you walked away from a movie going, “Wow. That Julianne Moore performance really took me out of my seat”? I can’t think of the last time either, so don’t feel ashamed, my little friend, but I will say that her performance in Still Alice may just be so, which is hugely surprising considering there’s hardly ever a moment here that makes it seem like she wants to grab a hold of the audience’s throats and remind everybody that she’s an actress dammit, and a great one at that. Instead, Moore down-plays just about everything that happens to Alice here and because her condition is one that works its way, slowly but surely, it’s extremely effective and reminds you of good acting, when it isn’t trying to tell you so.
Now, of course there’s been a lot of buzz going on surrounding Moore’s work here and how it might finally, after all of these years, gain her an Oscar, but all that aside, it’s still a very good performance. Moore’s ability to be subtle and show us the pain deep down inside of Alice, each and every time she gets confused about something she doesn’t know, is heart-breaking. She makes us understand that this condition is downright terrifying for the person who has it, and that they can literally forget where the bathroom is in their own home that they’ve had for over two decades. It’s incredibly sad to watch, but Moore gives a raw feel that’s not entirely begging for our attention, but more or less, daring you to take your eyes away from her, no matter what scene she’s in.
“Okay, mom. I swear I’ll stop doing YA adaptations.”
And though this is obviously Moore’s show from beginning to end, the rest of the cast is pretty good, too, even if some don’t get as much to do as others. Alec Baldwin, believe it or not, actually gets the chance to play a loving, adoring, and dedicated husband who, sadly, has been thrown into a situation he himself does not know if he can handle. In fact, I’d say one of the more interesting insights this movie delves into is how the person with the disease isn’t just the only one who’s hurt, but much rather, those who love and support that person as well. Sometimes, even worse because the others are at least conscious of what’s going on and realizing that they’re losing someone that they love; whereas, in some cases, the person with the disease understands what is happening to them, at least accepts it, moves on, and appreciates all that they have left on this planet.
With Alice’s family, it’s interesting to see who is actually able to handle this transformation in her life, and who exactly isn’t. A perfect example of this are the two sisters, played by Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart (who is pretty great in this movie and makes me want to see more of her, of course, but on a smaller-scale); the former’s character is a neat, classy and professional lawyer who is, for the most part, the up-tight one of the two, whereas the later’s character is more of the family wild child who does what she wants, when she wants to, regardless of how much influence her parents try to throw into her future. Oh, and even worse, she’s living in L.A. as a part-time actor. If that doesn’t get parents’ blood boiling, I don’t know what does.
Anyway, you’d think that because Bosworth’s character has already has such success with her life as is, that she’d be the one to step right up, know what to do with her mother, and exactly how to handle it in an efficient way. However, that’s the exact opposite of what happens here, as it’s more of Stewart’s somewhat-reckless character that takes the reigns as her mother’s most dedicated and understanding caretaker, all the more proving that it doesn’t matter who you think a person may, or may not be from the way they generally are, see how they are when they react in a moment of crisis and then you’ll know exactly who they are.
Then again though, that’s how it usually is with family. You never know what you’re going to get, but you can always depend on love being there.
Consensus: Without overdoing the melodrama, Still Alice (which is a terrible title, I must say) is an effective, thought-provoking piece about early onset Alzheimer’s disease that not only gives us one of Julianne Moore’s best performances, but also proves to be an insightful look into how family-dynamics change, especially once one member seems to have lost it all. Literally speaking, in this case.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!
Have been in your situation many times, honey. Don’t feel too bad.
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images