Still Alice is an absolutely heart-wrenching tale of a film. Based on the 2009 novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice follow’s Julianne Moore as Alice Howland, a Columbia University professor of linguistics who is diagnosed not long after her 50th birthday with a case of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. What follows is about an hour and a half of coping with the slow degradation of one’s mind in the company of their loving family (a stellar cast that includes Alec Baldwin as her husband, and Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish as their three children). I was lucky enough to see the film as part of the Toronto International Film Festival this year at the beautiful Winter Garden Theatre, and after wiping away the single tear that lingered throughout the entire viewing experience, I thought I would share my thoughts.
First off, this is a beautifully shot film. The directorial couple, husband and husband Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (co-directors of Quinceanera), don’t work to create anything overly flashy, nor do they rest on depressing imagery. There are some visual tricks like out of focus shots or field of view disruptions that add to the internal frenzy Moore’s character was no doubt feeling, yet other than these, what you have are some beautiful static shots that chew scenery like Columbia University’s beautiful campus, or the beach in what I am guessing is the Hamptons. There are also some long running shots where you get to feel the life of New York City, an already chaotic atmosphere only made more so by the knowledge we the audience have of the mental challenges the title character faces.
Yet it is the subtlety of the performances that make this film. Rather than focusing on the outsider’s perspective watching the deterioration of Alice’s mental acuity, we instead follow it from Alice’s point of view. It was important, I imagine, for Genova to make a professor the focal point of the story, someone to whom their brain has been the single most necessary tool in crafting their life to date. Not only that, but she is a professor of linguistics, or more broadly communication and language, two of the more impacted faculties of Alzheimer’s disease. Watching Moore progress from her initial lectures to the shell of who she once was is absolutely heartbreaking. And yet, her determination to hold on as long as possible throughout the film is completely endearing and heart-warming. While the supporting cast is great at everything they do in this film, the whole effort hinges on Moore’s performance and it is one of her strongest to date. You will no doubt see this film making Oscar buzz come this coming holiday season.
This film had deeply touched the Toronto audience, and with the Q&A after the film, you got a sense from all parties involved, the directors, producers, and the stars, that Alzheimer’s disease was something they respected fully and wanted to deliver properly. I think it is safe to say that their goals were achieved with great success as a long standing ovation greeted them all as they walked on and off the stage. This film is a must see.
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