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New Release Review - Still Alice

A linguistics professor develops premature Alzheimer's disease.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth



Still Alice arrives on European screens with the added marketing bonus of Julianne Moore's recent Oscar Best Actress win for her portrayal of the title character. It's a victory that Moore seemed to have in the bag for several months prior to Hollywood's big night, but most commentators snarkily surmised the win would be more in the vein of a lifetime achievement award, given her previous multiple nominations and the unquestionable quality of Moore's work. Finally awarding Moore for playing a character stricken with a disabling ailment seems like a case of Oscar living up to its worst clich├ęs, but make no mistake, this is the finest work of Moore's career.
The titular Alice is a successful professor of linguistics at New York's prestigious Columbia University. She's living the American dream - her career's at its peak, she's got a rich and handsome husband (Baldwin, reteaming with Moore after their stint on TV's 30 Rock; somewhat distractingly so), and her children are impossibly good looking and successful, all save for struggling actor Lydia (Stewart, also delivering a career best turn), who Alice wishes would give up her pipedream and attend college.
Everything's going fine until Alice finds herself forgetting words, the very foundation of her work. When this becomes a recurring problem she gets herself checked out, only to be diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease. Forced to quit her position at Columbia, Alice finds herself having to live her life on a new set of terms.
Moore really is fantastic here. Rarely have we seen such a subtle and convincing portrayal of mental deterioration. It's ironic that she recently worked for David Cronenberg in Maps to the Stars, but it's this movie that finds her in the realm of body, or rather neuro-horror, with layers of Alice's mind peeling away like Jeff Goldblum's body parts in The Fly. Personally, and I think most would agree, I find the idea of losing my cognitive functions far more disturbing than any possible bodily impairment. Add the fact that any of us could be stricken down by this disease and Still Alice makes for a grim watch.
Remove Moore's performance however and you're left with little more than a slightly more nuanced 'disease of the week' movie, one you could imagine Meredith Baxter Birney, Donna Mills or Lindsay Wagner headlining on the Lifetime channel. Alice's position in the world of linguistics is a little too convenient and somewhat patronising, as though Alzheimer's wouldn't make a plumber's life just as hellish. It's also a film that presumes its audience is opposed to the notion of self-termination, putting a lot of effort into setting up a suspense sequence based around a bungled suicide attempt. Yet seeing the complete loss of self of Alice, it's difficult to believe she's better off living with her condition, and by the film's conclusion, only the most conservative-minded could buy into its dubious title.




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