Well before the 2015 film awards season got up to speed, one winner had already been proclaimed. The early whispers surrounding Julianne Moore’s performance as a University professor struggling to deal with early onset Alzheimer’s continued to build until one of America’s finest actresses finally stood on stage clutching the golden statuette. The performance deserves it, quite possibly the best of her career. The film, a functional affair, is elevated mightily as a result.
Every year that passes, it feels like Moore grows in importance. 2014 was really a bumper edition with her storming both ends of the spectrum. Maps to the Stars nails blistering entertainment value, Still Alice finds just about every nuance on offer in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s film and more.
It’s a masterclass in character development as Alice goes from confident professor to struggling dependant in under two hours. She gets a few stand out scenes to rail against the world, and one instance near the end of effectively manipulative drama as she draws close to an irreversible decision, but for the most part Moore find’s Alice in the little details.
It’s the small mistakes as she forgets names and stumbles through classes, her confusion when she meets her daughter, and her rage at misplacing a mobile phone that bring home the reality of a condition that saps everything that makes us who we are. In Moore’s hands it’s a painful, debilitating deterioration that avoids naval gazing by showing her attempting to adapt to the situation. She uses her phone to set alarms and works hard on routines.
Outside her orbit, Still Alice is a much less impressive proposition. Built on fragile foundations, the story flounders when anyone else stumbles onto the set. Alice’s family occasionally come into shot cluttering the film to no real benefit. Alec Baldwin as her husband John is given the occasional straw to grasp at, only to find the one left in his hand is always the shortest.
The rest of her family are wasted even more. Kristen Stewart as youngest daughter Lydia spars forgettably a few times while her other two children, Anna (Kate Bosworth) and Tom (Hunter Parrish) are little more than background wallpaper. Forced drama sees them grapple with the threat that they might have Alice’s condition passed on genetically before the film loses heart and moves on.
Production elements also let the film down, particularly a distracting score that misjudges the mood, sanding down Moore’s raw performance into something conventionally palatable. While it softens the edges, something stronger would be needed to neutralise this performance. Still Alice takes a difficult subject and puts the process of mental decline centre stage with deft empathetic touches. It’s only when it tries to be a film that it slips up.
Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Stars: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart
Runtime: 101 min
Country: USA, France