Still Alice

Year: 2014
Production Co: Lutzus-Brown
Director: Richard Glatzer/Wash Westmoreland
Writer: Richard Glatzer/Wash Westmoreland/Lisa Genova
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth

At its heart Still Alice is a disease of the week midday movie, but the sublime Julianne Moore and many of her costars elevate it into something more at home on the awards circuit. When she falls victim to the disease stealing her mind from her, Moore conveys the confusion and terror her character Alice is feeling with the merest rise of an eyebrow or the subtle darting of her eyes. Midday movie quality this ain't.

A gifted and renowned academic and mother with a loving husband (Alec Baldwin, slightly stiff like he always is) and family, Alice (Moore) surely couldn't have a more perfect life. Her biggest concern is trying to convince her least buttoned-down daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) to go to college instead of running away to LA to be an actress to give her something to fall back on.

If you know anything about it going in, the story is as slight as the plot is expected. It starts with her forgetting the small stuff we all assume is the consequence of having a busy life, then it moves onto stuff that's a little scarier, like when she gets lost jogging around the university campus she works at and knows like the back of her hand, moving onto wetting herself because she can't find the toilet in her own house.

As Alice is diagnosed with Alzheimers and slips further, she sets up a series of self-testing methods and the ultimate damning fate in the form of a video she sends to her future self, knowing she'll be too far gone intellectually to not fall for the trick she sets herself and which will release herself and her family from the nightmare in tragic fashion.

It provides a bit of narrative urgency away from the descent-into-disease plotting, but the movie doesn't really need it. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland frame everything from Alice's point of view and frame of reference, making the fear about watching herself slip away all the more terrifying.

Along with the performances it's the single innovation that sets the movie apart from the Hallmark Channel version of the same story, where the family and colleagues around Alice watch her disappear. Here the story – ably supported by Moore's talent – puts you right in the middle of what it must feel like.

Accusations of it being a little too antiseptic are fair because there really aren't any surprises – Alice is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and then slowly falls victim to it pretty plainly and simply. Once or twice, like in the video example above, it also relies on contrived plot mechanics to move things forward.

But Moore is a bit like Meryl Streep in that I'd watch her read the phone book. She's perfectly cast here as she seems to have such a fierce sense of intelligence to go along with her poise and beauty as a person anyway, and to watch her play at losing all that is a masterclass.

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