Review: Still Alice – Forgetting the basics

Mark Reynolds 30 November -0001

Julianne Moore has swept up every award going for her tender and nuanced performance as an early-onset Alzheimer’s victim, but the rest of the film is less than memorable.

Moore plays smart, beautiful and successful linguistics professor Alice Howland, who appears to have it all: great job, loving husband (Alec Baldwin), three grown kids, an Upper West Side brownstone and a beach house bolthole. When she stumbles over or forgets a few words, she thinks little of it, but she realises something is very wrong when she gets hopelessly lost out jogging in her own neighbourhood.

Tests reveal Alice has a hereditary form of Alzheimer’s which has a 50:50 chance of being passed on to future generations, so the first tough step is to tell her children. Her eldest Anna (Kate Bosworth) tests positive and goes on to have twins who don’t possess the mutated gene; son Tom (Hunter Parrish) is negative, whilst her youngest Lydia (Kristen Stewart) prefers not to know so doesn’t take the test.

Moore presents the nightmare and tragedy of the disease exceptionally well, in a performance that evidently merits all the Best Actress accolades that have come her way (she scooped the Oscar, Golden Globe, Bafta and Screen Actors Guild awards, along with many others). The early panic at Alice’s first mental failings and the devastatingly quick deterioration of her cognitive powers have a heartbreaking physical quality. Scene by scene we see her jawline slacken, her eyes cloud over and her posture grow more uncertain as the disease takes its toll.

Kristen Stewart also gives her all as the strongest of the kids, who steps up to become Alice’s primary carer. Alec Baldwin, by contrast, is given little to do as the distracted, work-obsessed, albeit understatedly broken husband John, and in general the secondary characters remain just that: thinly drawn and of little interest. This could perhaps be forgiven in a made-for-TV melodrama, but it’s an inexcusable waste of Moore’s central brilliance not to have populated the rest of the film with believable, motivated characters we can also root for.

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