I expected to find Still Alice, the Alzheimer’s drama Julianne Moore recently won an Oscar for, thoroughly depressing. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it only rated around a 5 on the Alzheimer’s drama scale of 1 to Amour (the nuclear weapon of Alzheimer’s drama, in terms of how thoroughly depressing it is). Instead, I found the film oddly compelling and touching rather than out and out miserable. Yes, it’s undoubtedly Oscar bait and prone to a certain disease-of-the-week-TV-movie-ishness in terms of the subject matter. But even this is offset by directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s subtle cinematic touch.
For example, we experience the story (based on Lisa Genova’s novel) entirely from the point of view of the eponymous Alice (Moore), a University linguistics professor. As she battles early onset Alzheimer’s, the action around her goes out of focus – a very effective, if obvious, way to depict her confusion. The screenplay also cuts from scene to scene, sometimes with a rhythm that says to the audience “the following morning”, when in fact it is a month later and Alice has forgotten everything in between.
Of course, Alice’s condition takes its toll on her family. Because she has had a happy marriage, great career and loves her children, the sheer cruelty of losing these memories is depicted with heart-rending brilliance by the award winning Julianne Moore. I expected Moore to be excellent (she always is). I also expected fine support from Alec Baldwin as her husband. What I didn’t expect was Kristen Stewart to be good too, as Alice’s sort-of estranged daughter Lydia. Her part brings her total of performances that I actually like up to two (the other being Adventureland).
For me, the relationship between Stewart and her mother is the best thing in the film. Their relationship provides a redemptive and very touching element, and is certainly destined to bring a tear to many eyes. Ultimately, the film does not duck the issue of just how awful Alzheimer’s is, but it also celebrates a life well lived in a very moving way.
In short, Still Alice is still depressing, but not nearly as depressing as I expected.