Overview: An accomplished linguistics professor, loving wife and mother of three is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. 2015; distributed by Sony Pictures Classics; Rated PG-13; 101 minutes.
The Art of Losing: The emotional impact of Still Alice won’t fade away minutes, hours, or perhaps even days after the credits roll, and there’s no beating around the fact that this film dishes out punch after punch of real, naked sorrow straight to the gut. It rarely lets up, weaving a story of sickness and loss from beginning to end that’s guaranteed to leave viewers drained, particularly viewers whose lives have been touched by this despicable monster of a disease. Audiences might shy away from this film or walk away with a negative reaction because it’s so completely saturated in sadness, but the poignant, unflinching stance Still Alice takes on this delicate subject makes it one that, while devastating, absolutely shouldn’t be missed.
The Sum of Its Parts: By now you’ve undoubtedly heard that Julianne Moore is a favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Actress this year, but Oscar buzz aside, no one’s really talking about the rest of this film, which is a complete tragedy because it’s worth a discussion that recognizes far more than its star’s performance. The screenplay, adapted by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (who also directed), transports the Lisa Genova’s novel from page to screen flawlessly, trimming the story down enough for film length without cutting any content that could compromise the integrity of Alice’s journey.
Still Alice is gorgeously shot, with camera angles, editing, and closeups that manage to convey Alice’s disintegrating memory. Her surroundings are blurred when she’s lost, flashes of memories bleed in and out of her everyday train of thought, and focus is placed on seemingly insignificant details that slowly become the center of Alice’s world, such as the ice that coats a twig or the fruity pebble toppings at the yogurt shop.
There’s also something to be said for the integration of society’s reliance on technology and how it can both benefit and hinder our well-being as well as become a representation of who we are and where we fit. Alice’s progress is measurable throughout by her interaction with her iPhone, which she relies on for notes and reminders that assist her during the early phases of her illness after diagnosis but also possibly prevented earlier detection, as our memory is rarely challenged with having to recall information that’s readily available at the swipe of a finger. The rapid progression of the disease also becomes evident in Alice’s longstanding “Words with Friends” game she plays with her oldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth), as the abundance of points Alice is able to rack up from one word fades away to more simplistic responses until the game becomes a painful reminder of her dissipating mental state.
A rundown of unappreciated elements in this film wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Kristen Stewart’s performance as Alice’s youngest daughter, Lydia, who gradually evolves from the rebellious, black sheep family member to sole caretaker and companion to her mother. Stewart’s portrayal of Lydia is subtle, capturing a hard as nails, stubborn shell that protects a vulnerable interior. It’s perfect casting, and Moore and Stewart’s chemistry provides a mother/daughter dynamic that’s as real as it gets on screen.
Butterflies Have a Beautiful Life: Julianne Moore’s performance as Dr. Alice Howland is, simply put, one of the best I’ve ever seen. This strong, witty, sharply intelligent, independent, yet fiercely loyal and loving woman deteriorates in front of us over a span of months that are condensed to less than two hours. This deterioration and its benchmarks are evident by every movement, every syllable, and every lost look in Moore’s eyes throughout the film. The confusion of memory loss, the embarrassment, the frustration, the haunting realization that you forgot your own child’s name is terrifying, and it radiates through her and into the audience.
Moore is able to share Alice’s struggle, her fight, with each minute thing she does, whether it’s the gut-wrenching breakdown she has in her husband’s arms or the horror and confusion that paints her face as she conducts a panicked search for the bathroom in her own home. But every frame, every look, every word, no matter how transformed from day one of diagnosis to the last days cataloged in this film, are still Alice’s.