An understated dignity and depth
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An understated dignity and depth

Julianne Moore in Still Alice.

Julianne Moore in Still Alice.

Still Alice
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart
101 mins; Class 18;
KRS Releasing Ltd

It has happened to most of us at some point that halfway through a conversation we can’t quite remember a particular word we want to use. It’s there at the tip of our tongue but it frustratingly eludes us.

That’s what happens to renowned linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) while she is delivering a lecture.

She doesn’t think much of it – maybe she shouldn’t have had that glass of champagne earlier. And, after all, forgetting things is not that uncommon in 50-year-old people.

But, a couple of days later, while out jogging her usual route, she inexplicably can’t remember where she is or how to get home.

Troubled by this, Alice goes to a neurologist who delivers a devastating diagnosis – she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The shocked Alice breaks the news to her husband John (Alec Baldwin) and three children Anna, Tom and Lydia (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart) as she pre-pares to face the inexorable decline that awaits her.

The role of Alice Howland is the role that finally – and deservedly – won Moore her first Oscar, after four previous attempts. And the actress is to be fully credited – as are the directing and screenwriting duo Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, more on whom later – for creating the role of a confident, fulfilled woman who faces a horrible diagnosis with equal amounts strength and vulnerability; for eschewing mawkishness for a masterclass in understated emotion; for injecting dignity into an undignified disease; and for offering a beautifully judged look into the ordeal a sufferer goes through with searing insight.

There are many powerful moments to experience in Moore’s performance, whether the awkwardness when she introduces herself to someone a second time within five minutes or seeing in stark reality what she will become when visiting a home for Alzheimer’s patients.

Moore is in virtually every scene, keeping it grounded and real throughout while the lucid moments commingle with the confused ones as Alice struggles to fight the loss of her identity.

Deservedly won Moore her first Oscar

Baldwin is on hand to offer solid support as John, who grapples with the news and tries to be a good husband throughout despite his obvious and understandable weaknesses.

The trio of Bosworth, Parrish and Stewart each do well as the kids, coping with the future their mother has to face coupled with the possibility that they may too carry the gene that causes the disease.

I must single Stewart out, as she finally puts the ghosts of Twilight’s Bella Swan finally to rest with a mature and touching performance as Lydia, the youngest child, at odds with her mother for her choice of acting career over college, yet ultimately proving to be her strongest shoulder to cry on.

The film is a sensible and matter-of-fact description of what she is facing and that is very much the approach taken by the Glatzer and Westmoreland in their adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel.

What makes it all the more poignant is that a few months before starting to work on the movie, Glatzer was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and fought his tenacious disease every day while on set; his personal battle paralleled with Alice’s onscreen one giving the film even more emotional resonance.

It is easy to label a movie such as this as depressing. I’d rather describe it as terribly sad, yet at the same time inspiring; a dignified ode to sufferers of this awful disease as represented by the film’s amazing protagonist as she struggles to remind those around her that she is still Alice.

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