With no specific cause and no cure, Alzheimer’s disease is as scary a diagnosis as one could ever get. That is precisely the premise of Still Alice.
Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a 51-year-old linguistics professor who is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin), and they have three grown children: Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). When Alice starts becoming uncommonly forgetful, she visits a neurologist, who soon diagnoses her with early onset Alzheimer’s.
The film tracks Alice’s decline in the months and years after the diagnosis as she struggles to maintain a connection to the person she once was. Although each of her family members goes through his or her own personal peaks and valleys, the focus remains on Alice throughout, giving viewers a firsthand and often uncomfortable look at what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone with Alzheimer’s.
This is obviously not an experience every moviegoer will want to have, but it’s worth watching. Writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, working from the book by Lisa Genova, keep the story compelling without schmaltz. It could have devolved into something akin to a Lifetime movie, but they save it from that fate.
As does the acting. Moore, who’s been nominated for — and likely will win — an Oscar for her role, is brilliant as Alice. She brings such subtlety to a part that could easily be overplayed, making it all the more heartbreaking.
Baldwin, Bosworth and Parrish are all good, but the big surprise is Stewart as youngest daughter Lydia. Her character’s progression over the course of the film is second only to that of Alice, and it’s due to Stewart’s being as empathetic as she’s ever been. Two years removed from the Twilight series, Stewart, who was also acclaimed in the indie film Camp X-Ray, may finally be coming into her own as an actress.
As a complete film, Still Alice does come up a bit lacking, but when it contains such strong performances, it’s easy to forgive any faults it may have. Just make sure you’re well stocked with tissues before heading in.