STILL ALICE (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"They have a nice life, you know, really beautiful lives."
- Alice talking about the beautiful, yet, short lifespan of butterflies
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Alice's life really is that of a butterfly. She's experience much professional success, has an equally successful husband, three wonderful children and home full of warm happiness. The moment she learns of the diagnosis, her life becomes that of a butterfly - full of much beauty but cut short. The comparison of the butterfly somehow sweetens the adversity Alice is faced with - but only for a moment. Julianne Moore's performance forces you to remember that regardless of Alice having a life any one would be proud to have lived, it is still being cut short when she's not ready to let go.

KEYWORDS
Devastating, authentic, emotional, moving, fear

THE GOOD
Convincing, sensitive, difficult subject, vulnerable, Julianne Moore’s performance and Kristen Stewart’s acting (whaaa?!)

THE BAD
Uneven, unnecessary family plot lines, generally boring, dislikeable family, average

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Julianne Moore plays Alice, a 50-year-old established, respected, intelligent linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Where most movies may focus on the family and friends who are losing their loved one to a hazy world of fading recognition, the film focuses on Alice’s point of view and how she copes with her diagnosis. It makes for many difficult moments and scenes that cannot be viewed without an already tear soaked tissue close-by. Alec Baldwin plays her equally respected and successful husband, and Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart play their three children.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
I first saw the trailer for this movie in the theaters. Within seconds, the waterworks were in full force. My face? Coated in tears. Clearly, this meant it needed to be on my “must-watch” list. As I sat in the theater, armed with Kleenex, I was fully prepared to cry my way through this film. The subject matter es on a personal fear so I was expecting the worst, in terms of it being realized. To know that, although rare, it is possible to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at an age way before you should is scary and unimaginable. I knew I was in for all things emotional.

Still Alice wastes no time getting into the meat of the subject. Alice innocently begins to forget words here and there, a very common thing all people experience. But as she becomes confused on where she is during her daily jog, she visits her doctor, and is asked a number of questions letting her and the viewer know that something more than an unassuming case of forgetfulness is brewing. Once officially diagnosed, which is a tragedy in and of itself, the film goes one step further in “gasp” mode when the gene causing this disease is hereditary, making her children 50/50 carriers of the gene.

Julianne Moore captures the fading of her life, memory, and knowledge in such a delicate manner; she makes you believe she is Alice and suffering from Alzheimer’s. Alice’s determination to fight this disease is admirable and make her inevitable shortcomings that much more tragic. My focus and attention was only on her – how is she going to try and remember this moment? What inventive way, with the help of her iPhone, is she going to come up with so she remembers her daughter’s name? Her “forgetfulness” makes for an awkward family moment as she fails to remember being introduced to her son’s girlfriend as a guest for Thanksgiving, and repeatedly reintroduces herself. Each family member encounters Alice in different phases and situations of her fading mind. Notably, Kristen Stewart’s scenes with Julianne Moore were some of my favorites. That’s right – I said it. Stewart was actually tolerable. She showed a quiet and empathetic performance and to be honest, the only likeable person in the family. She was gentle when she needed to be, allowing me to appreciate her especially in the moments she shares with her mother. Her response in understanding and helping her mother are what you ache to see in this film, especially when the rest of the family is just, plain annoying and unlikeable.
Julianne Moore was magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her expressions, her eyes, as she searched for ways to keep a smile on her face, trying to come to terms with what was happening to her while losing all the success she’s worked for. It reminded me of 2012’s Oscar nominated film, Amour. The movie follows an older couple whose bond is tested when the wife, Anne, an accomplished pianist, suffers a stroke, leaving her dependent on her husband and good Samaritans to take care of her. The difference, though, was the stroke immediately changed the dynamic between the couple, making it even stronger. In Still Alice, I did not feel that family bond strengthen or change much in any way. It almost bordered on the family seeming sort of detached. Equally so, I couldn’t care less with what was happening to the family members, either. Anne (Kate Bosworth) is pregnant and expecting twins, her husband (Alec Baldwin) is continuing his path towards success in his career, and Lydia (Stewart) is trying to succeed as an actress – all things that took away from what was truly the star of the movie – Alice and her diagnosis. 

There was a moment in the film when Alice speaks frankly with her husband on her feelings and what she is going thru. With a single line, Alice is able to give you a glimpse of her thought process, telling her husband “I wish I had cancer”. And you understand why without even her having to explain the reason. Whether or not you know someone with Alzheimer’s, Moore’s delivery of this conversation is honest and demands your empathy and understanding. It’s in these vulnerable moments where she shines and evokes an immeasurable amount of sadness from the viewer.

Now that I’ve given ample and deserved praise to Moore’s performance, I don’t feel so bad telling you how utterly boring and empty this movie was. I know - I’m just as confused as you. How can such noteworthy acting be in the presence of a film that can only be described as, “meh.” I assure you, though, there’s no other way to put it. Everything around Moore was average or teetering right below it – the side storylines, the family characters and dynamic, and the overall journey. The film was uneven and the movie never met the level of emotion Moore carried in each of her scenes, disappointingly so. Despite this, Moore owns her role in the film and makes every scene feel more important that it was. She truly was a stand out and not just because everything surrounding her was not. You felt the energy radiate from every twitch, the flinch in her hesitancy, the anticipation of tears waiting in her welled eyes, or her blank confused stare. She made you FEEL something amidst the unfortunate lack everywhere else. Where Alice is trying to stay connected, the movie feels detached. 

KEY SCENE
The moments with Alice and her daughter, Lydia, were some of my favorites in the scene. Lydia empathizes with her mom and wants to truly understand what her mother is going thru. I thought she asked sensitive questions and didn’t treat her mother any differently than when she was coherent, before her diagnosis. This scene also reveals the significance of a butterfly necklace Alice wears and why there is a folder on her computer’s desktop bearing the same name, triggering one of the saddest moments in the film. 
CONCLUSION
Julianne Moore is a solid actress, not one I clamor to go to the movies for but don’t mind, nonetheless.  The last time I saw her in a movie was in The Kids Are All Right (2010) and I thought she did a nice job in that film, as well – but nothing surprising. It was a solid performance. For Still Alice, however, she encompassed this character and the 180 path her life is now on and how devastatingly sad it is to watch. I was transfixed on her face and her resiliency to deal with this tragic change in her life. The film, as a whole, isn’t anything to write home about but Moore’s performance most certainly is. The grace her character exudes in the face of fearful times, shows a determination that is so admirable, you can’t help but be moved to tears. I wished her performance were placed in a film and with characters that were more interesting. But, perhaps that was done on purpose, knowing the movie had Moore’s stellar performance to hinge on. The only thing worth watching, and rightfully so, is Moore.
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2.5 out of 4

 


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