Still Alice – Film Review
by Jen Grimble
Less than a month after the UK release of his final film, director Richard Glatzer lost his battle with Motor Neurone Disease. His illness lured him deeper into cinema, spending his final years absorbed in the industry. His closing project, Still Alice, co-directed with his husband Wash Westmoreland (Echo Park, L.A.), is an accomplished and poignant exploration of identity, love, and the effects of Alzheimer’s. Themes that have been explored not too dis-similarly in movies like The Savages and Away From Her. Yet while these films focus on the effects of dementia on the wider family, Still Alice looks almost entirely at how the disease changes the person it inhabits. From diagnosis, to complete dominance.
Based on Lisa Genova’s award-winning novel, Still Alice is an apt choice for Glatzer. He relates to its themes in a deeply private way. The film offers a candid exploration of a common but inconceivable illness. It looks at multi-layered loss; memory, identity and family relationships.
Julianne Moore is Alice, a highly successful linguistics professor. After celebrating her 50th birthday, she struggles to finish a sentence during a guest lecture in Los Angeles. Further cracks form before a visit to a neurologist (Stephen Kunken) confirms Alice has early-onset Alzheimer’s. It is a progressive and hereditary disease. This shocking realisation highlights Alice’s reliance on communication. Soon the very words that form her professional and personal life begin to slip away from her.
“A painfully frank and heartfelt exploration”
Alice’s husband, John (Alec Baldwin) and their three children, Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish), and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), promise to support her. Yet when Alice begins to rapidly decline and personal commitments get in their way, divides form between the family members. Faced with the prospect of becoming a further burden, Alice leaves herself a video message, for her future-self to watch when she can no longer answer the simple questions she has set for herself. Though we have a strong idea of how this story might end, Glatzer and Westmoreland make a known tale feel tender and undetermined.
Julianne Moore breathes every aspect of her role, becoming alive yet retired within the character. Her insightful, raw performance deserves every accolade she has received, because it is the truth she brings to the protagonist that gives Still Alice such credibility. Kristen Stewart is the second flawless offering of the movie, with a mature and sensitive portrayal of a daughter coming to terms with her mothers’ illness. These two actresses alone capture the very essence of Still Alice; the strength of love, the importance of the self, and the power of remembering.
Still Alice is a painfully frank and beautifully heartfelt exploration of the truly unpleasant side of Alzheimer’s. Its simple narration, clever observations and profoundly penetrating message, makes it alive with emotion, humanism and respect. Glatzer leaves behind a proud and diligent legacy, with a film that could well be one of the most authentic explorations of dementia ever to grace our screens.