Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a highly respected linguistics professor who lives in a fashionable New York City brownstone with her medical doctor husband John (Alec Baldwin). They have three beautiful children, although Alice worries about the career security of her youngest Lydia (Kristen Stewart), an actress. After getting lost during a run on her own college campus one day, Dr. Howland goes for tests. When a diagnosis of Early-Onset-Alzheimer's is returned, she wonders just how long she will be "Still Alice."
There is an innate problem at the center of writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's ("Quinceañera," "The Last of Robin Hood") movie. Once Alice is diagnosed, the only person who truly seems to care about her is the daughter she continually tangles with. Her husband seems inconvenienced, worrying more about an opportunity to land a position at the Mayo Clinic. Her eldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth, "Beyond the Sea," 2011's "Straw Dogs"), brooding over the hereditary aspect of mom's disease, is completely self-absorbed. Son Tom (Hunter Parrish, Showtime's 'Weeds') is a nonentity, as handsome yet hollow as the wealthy environs which surround them all. In this adaptation of Lisa Genova's novel, one is left wondering why anyone would want to be Alice to begin with. Somehow I don't think that's what the filmmakers were going for.
Alice's world is one of family celebrations (it opens at her restaurant birthday dinner, continues on to Christmas dinner, then an anniversary) and classes. She and her husband seem to pass each other to sync their busy schedules. Anna may be expecting twins, but only Lydia seems to have her mother's full, hectoring attention. Lydia's moved to L.A. where she's invested in a theater group that shares equity. Mom's undone because the highly achieving Howlands all have impressive degrees except for Lydia.
When Alice panics one morning, telling John she's afraid of losing herself, he seems surprised by the outburst. He comforts her, but when she later forgets a dinner with his department head, he only exhibits anger and annoyance. He and Anna sit and clinically discuss how mom will be cared for, a problem to be solved. But Lydia comes back to the East Coast and begins to spend a lot of time with mom.
Moore is an exceptionally fine actress and her technical portrayal of a woman losing cognitive ability is first rate. Still, there is always an awareness of watching Julianne Moore, actress, rather than Alice Howland, character. She's touching when delivering a speech to an Alzheimer's Group, the irony of a woman known for her ability with language struggling to find words moving. Her last scene, however, is awful, cloying, sentimental and awkward, whether the failure of acting or direction difficult to pinpoint. The best thing about "Still Alice" is Kristen Stewart, the only member of the cast who creates a flesh and blood person. The young actress encompasses squirmy irritation in her bid for independence without showy rebellion, then real patience and compassion. It's a lovely piece of work. If only the rest of the film were as true.
Robin gives "Still Alice" a B-.
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