According to Julianne Moore, her husband’s first reaction after seeing her film Still Alice (2014), was emotional. He told her that she was bound to win an Oscar for her portrayal of a middle aged, university professor who’s life slowly crumbles after she discovers she is suffering from the effects of early stages Alzheimer’s.
Alice Howland – a doctor of linguistics at New York’s Columbia University – is a woman for whom her intellect and mastery of the English language defines her as a person. When this is threatened with the onset of the debilitating disease of Alzheimer’s, Alice begins to see all that matters most in her life begin to slip from her grasp with devastating results.
Films, even good ones, come and go. You can count on one hand the number which could be watched and appreciated by anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Still Alice is one such film: not only is it beautifully shot and masterfully portrayed by Moore and her supporting cast, but it revolves around a story which effects the everyday lives of an increasing number of people in our modern world.
Everything about the feel of this film oozes an understated elegance and style, perfectly encapsulating the cosseted lifestyle of New York academic Alice Howland and her doctor husband John – an emotionally charged performance from veteran supporter Alec Baldwin. The different seasons shown, as Alice’s life progresses in their Big Apple townhouse and weekend home on New York state’s Atlantic coast, are envisaged in an evocative palette of muted browns, greys and blues, perfectly capturing the feeling of increasing isolation and disjointedness Alice experiences as she succumbs to the effects of her illness.
The performances though, make Still Alice what it is. Clearly Moore’s film, her interpretation of a middle aged woman whose intellect defines not only her career but also her life, is nothing short of stunning, made all the more poignant as it emerges that the very thing for which she has fought for all her life – her mind – could be one of the very reasons behind why it may ultimately be cut short. It takes an actor of power and depth to give themselves over completely and without fear to a role which requires little or no fear of being laid bare before an audience, which is exactly what Moore does through her interpretation of the vulnerable Alice.
Strong support comes from those playing Alice’s loving yet complex family, including Hunter Parrish and Kate Bosworth as her son Tom and elder daughter Anna. However it is the aforementioned Baldwin as her husband, struggling to understand the wife he loves yet sees as increasingly slipping away from him, and a mesmerising performance from Kristen Stewart as her younger daughter Lydia an aspiring actress torn between forging ahead in her chosen profession or returning home to help a mother with whom her relationship is fragile at best, who stand out. The result is a depiction of complex human relationships put under strain by the unexpected twists and turns of life, which will ring true for many watching it.
It seems Moore’s husband’s verdict of the film was also prophetic, after she won the Oscar for Best Actress at the 2015 Academy Awards for her portrayal. After watching Still Alice, you can’t help but agree with his, and the Academy’s, verdict.