TIFF 2014: Still Alice (DIR: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland ) – REVIEW

Julianne Moore Still AliceStill 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.

Still-Alice novelFirst 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.

Kristen-Stewart-&-Julianne-Filming-Still-AliceThis 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.

Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar

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12 responses to “TIFF 2014: Still Alice (DIR: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland ) – REVIEW

  1. Thank you, Tom, for spreading the word. As a great fan of the book and the daughter of a mom who died of younger-onset Alzheimer’s, I look forward so much to seeing Julianne Moore as Alice. What a terrifying, frustrating illness.

    • What was nice to see at the screening was just how much involvement the film received from various Alzheimer’s-based foundations. It is not a film that is playing for tears. It is honest and thought provoking. I hope that you will approve.

  2. I so respect the author, Lisa Genova. She writes beautifully and realistically about disorders of the brain with wholistic sensitivity and meaning. I can’t wait to see this film. Congratulations to all!

  3. Thanks. How was Stewart’s performance? Does she have those tics (messing around with her hair all the time, bitting lips..) in this movie? I’ve noticed she doesn’t have them for a while now, and I am aware she doesn’t have them in Camp X-Ray and Sils Maria. But I read someone saying she does it in this movie, so it feels a little suspecious to me if the person is telling the truth. However, I am aware that having mannerisms doesn’t make a performance bad or good, I am still curious though.

    • She does fall back on those ticks to a slight degree. In conversations with her mother where she is trying to balance between being honest about her feelings and being compassionate toward her mother’s plight. Nevertheless, she gives a strong performance.

      • I would say it is somewhere between the 20-30 mark. Some of that screen time comes in the form of her being on the other end of a Skype conversation, but that still counts as it is important to both her and Moore’s character development.

    • It’s so stupid that everyone jumps on her for having ‘tics’. Every actor has tics. Meryl has tics too, Jack Nicholson plays the same way in most films etc. Some people go into Kristen’s films waiting for her to bite her lip or whatever, then they can run to twitter to say ‘wahhh she is a bad actress’. It’s become a bit of a sport to use Stewart as a punching bag so I for one as thrilled she is making those people look like fools with every performance. She is making great decisions and is in the business for the right reasons.

      • I totally agree with you. How many times have I watched Richard Gere blink his way through a movie? George Clooney used to shake his head from side to side throughout every role for no apparent reason? Jack Nicholson wiggles his eyebrows. Al Pacino yells his lines and at times I don’t really know why. I don’t know why Kristen Stewart gets skewered for having mannerisms that are her own, but everybody else gets a free pass.

      • It was just curiosity, cause she stoped with them for so long, since the second or third Twilight, so when the person told me she fell back, I got suspicious. Anyway, like I said, it doesn’t define a perf

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