Friday, December 12, 2014

Movie with Abe: Still Alice

Still Alice
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Released December 7, 2014

Mental deterioration as a result of aging is a frequent subject in film, and almost always a heartbreaking one. Those who undertake the role of a person suffering from the gradually worsening effects of Alzheimer’s disease usually do so with a great seriousness and are often rewarded with accolades for their efforts. It’s no surprise that Julianne Moore is a frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Dr. Alice Howland, a woman diagnosed with the disease whose situation is made exponentially more tragic by its early manifestation at the relatively young age of fifty.

“Still Alice” begins by introducing its protagonist as an intellectual linguistics professor, one who uses words ending in “J” while playing Words with Friends and talks circles around most of the people in her life. In nearly every conversation or solitary moment, however, there is something off, a forgotten word or loss of focus that clues Alice into the fact that all is not right. Facing the problem head on, Alice goes to see a neurologist and undertakes every effort possible to keep her memory sharp. This is not a glossy or glorified portrayal of Alzheimer’s, and therefore Alice cannot hope to fight the progression of her disease.

What makes this story extraordinary is Alice herself. She learns from her doctor that, despite all that she has been doing to maintain her memory, someone as intelligent as her is more susceptible to worsening conditions because she has built ways to prolong its effects into her natural routine. The film’s most powerful and unforgettable scene finds Alice delivering a speech at an Alzheimer’s Association event, describing her best efforts to hold onto who she is and to her memories while being all too keenly aware of what is happening to her faculties. Alice’s condition is a brutal reminder that knowing what you’re facing isn’t a foolproof defense.

Moore is a strong choice to play Alice, capable of communicating great emotions with minute facial expressions and adept at showing Alice’s gradual transformation from a fully functional intellectual to someone unable to recognize her surroundings. It’s a deeply involved and affecting performance, and few will argue that she isn’t deserving of the recognition she is sure to earn. Kristen Stewart, Hunter Parrish, and Kate Bosworth portray her three children, each representative of a different way of dealing with seeing a parent in this situation, and Alec Baldwin is her loyal husband whose actions don’t always feel entirely supportive. Stewart demonstrates growth and range in her performance, but aside from that, this is purely Moore’ show, as she anchors this devastating and affecting film about holding on to something that’s slipping away.


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