by Hope Madden
Unless something goes terribly amiss Julianne Moore will finally win an Oscar this year, and that’s simply good news. She probably should have won one for Savage Grace, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Far From Heaven, Safe and maybe half a dozen other films. Moore is among the most versatile and talented performers of her generation, and Still Alice represents that talent well. Too bad it’s just not that great a film.
Moore plays Alice Howland, a psychology professor at Columbia University who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s.
Perhaps the best film on Alzheimer’s is Michael Haneke’s brilliant and devastating Amour, a breathtaking journey into one couple’s struggle with the disease. By comparison, Still Alice feels under developed and tidy, particularly as the disease affects the minor characters in the piece. Alec Baldwin, in particular, is hamstrung with an underwritten role as Alice’s husband. Only Kristin Stewart manages to uncover a real character arc as Alice’s daughter, much thanks to an intriguing chemistry with Moore.
The film too often feels like a made for television tragedy, with the only really interesting choice being the decision to make the victim of the disease the point of view character. In Amour as well as Away From Her and other films treading similar ground, our vehicle into the medical tragedy is a loved one. Still Alice wants to give us the first hand sense of what it is like to watch yourself disappear.
It’s a risky choice, but thanks to Moore’s impeccable, understated handling of the role, Still Alice avoids a maudlin, self-congratulatory or sentimental fate. She’s more than up to the challenge.
Moore establishes a character that is more than the irony and heart tugging on the page. Characteristically nuanced and honest, it’s a performance that makes up for many of the weaknesses in the rest of the film.
Moore’s understatement keeps the film from melodrama, but unfortunately, everything else about the movie needed a bit more drama. It’s a superficial tale with contrived bits of tension that end in uninspired resolutions. The lack of insight into the marriage itself is probably the film’s most noticeable failing, but aside from Moore’s ability to show us how the disease ravages a once sharp mind, we don’t get to know Alice – her relationships, her past, her passions – well enough to really understand what she’s losing.