Much has already been made of Julianne Moore’s multi-award winning performance in Still Alice, a hard-hitting drama that follows Alice Howland, an intelligent linguistics professor and mother of three, who learns she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, the film’s central performance from Moore is a powerful one that certainly deserves the accolades it’s been receiving since the film’s début on the Festival Circuit in 2014. But what of the picture itself?
Sadly, the film doesn’t quite measure up in quality to the central performance Moore gives. It’s by no means awful, and certainly delivers some good moments of genuine emotion and drama throughout. But unlike Moore’s performance, the narrative lacks any real punch. Smaller moments work well, whilst the bigger moments don’t. Supporting cast members like Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart are left with underdeveloped characters that feel like they merely exist on the fringes of the story, as opposed to actual, living, breathing people whose lives are heavily intertwined with both Alice’s and her condition.
What does work in the film’s favour is the restraint the directors have clearly taken with the more upsetting moments. The film never threatens to fall into melodrama, instead remaining subtle in its portrayal of Alice’s growing fears, her despair, and her ultimate decline. Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment in the whole film, wherein Alice is unable to find the bathroom in which to use the toilet, could easily have been shot in such a way as to shock the audience. Instead, the directors wisely allow Moore to sell the moment without the aid of a grim visual.
What ultimately doesn’t work in the narrative’s favour is the decline of Alice itself. Whilst Moore’s performance is restrained, layered and engrossing, the film struggles as a result of a plot that can really only go in one direction. From the off, we know that it’s a hopeless situation Alice is in, one which plays out on-screen almost like a slow and heartbreaking death, as the character we meet in Scene one is slowly chipped away to a point that she is near unrecognisable. As a result, the ending is inevitable. There’s no satisfaction to be had, no comfort upon reaching the conclusion. No small moment to lift Alice’s turmoil from the ground up, not even just an inch. It’s the end. And whilst its wonderful to see a great actress portray such a sad and devastating loss of self in a manner that is so engaging and honest, it is certainly much harder to watch a film where the ending is already a hundred-percent clear within the first 20 minutes. But then again, you can’t really fault a film too much for being so bold and realistic.
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